Government, News

Commissioners ask DNR to reconsider aspects of Cacapon campground proposals

Citizens fill county meeting with concerns about RVs at park

by Kate Shunney

Faced with a standing-room only crowd with a long list of concerns about a proposed RV campground at Cacapon State Park last Wednesday, Morgan County Commissioners took heed and voted early this week to send a letter to the West Virginia Chief of State Parks asking that local concerns about the plans be taken seriously.

On Monday, February 6, commissioners unanimously approved a two-page letter to Bradley Reed that drilled down into those concerns.

Morgan County Commission letter to DNR

Commissioner Joel Tuttle drafted the letter, which was slightly edited by the other commissioners, and signed by all three.

“In regards to the recent RFP released by the WV DNR for the construction of an RV park in Cacapon State Park, we would like to express some concerns that were shared with us by a rather large group of citizens at our public County Commission meeting last week,” the letter said.

“Many of the concerns are ones you would expect when a project such as this is proposed in one our beloved state parks: damage to native plant species and natural habitats, runoff, clear-cutting trees, excessive traffic, noise pollution, light pollution, stress to the current water/sewer/electric infrastructure, etc.”

The county’s letter then states that of particular concern is the inclusion in the RFP of one “suggested” site for an RV campground – in the area behind the Nature Center.

The letter points out that this is the only specific location mentioned in the RFP, even though the call for proposals from vendors says campground plans could be proposed for any site in the 6,000-acre park.

“We have been assured by a member of your team that this spot was merely a suggestion and that any location in the park is a viable option. But if you put yourself in the shoes of the vendors responding to the RFP you’ll see how they would naturally gravitate toward this area after seeing it suggested in print,” the county’s letter says.

Carol Reece addresses the Morgan County Commission about her concerns regarding a proposed RV campground at Cacapon State Park.

Unlike the dozens of people who showed up at the February 1 county meeting to list their worries about adding an RV park to Cacapon, the commissioners’ letter focused primarily on the problems of locating a campground behind the Nature Center. At the top of the list was a potential impact on volunteer-built mountain bike trails for beginner and intermediate riders, where student bike races are held.

The “Rock & Roll” trail was built with years of volunteer labor and county support.

“This…issue is of specific concern to the Commission due to our sizable investment in the overall mountain bike trail plan and the important role this area plays in that plan. As I mentioned earlier, the Rock & Roll trail is our cornerstone trail and can be ridden by enthusiasts of all ages and skill sets.

“It is mostly hand-built and it is estimated that $70,000 worth of volunteer labor was used to complete this trail on a limited budget in the beginning. Many of those volunteers have voiced their displeasure that the DNR would even think about this area for an RV park after considering the long, hard hours our volunteers dedicated to this effort,” the commissioners wrote.

At the February 1 commissioner meeting, the head of West Virginia’s National Interscholastic Cycling Association (NICA) told county officials an RV park near the Rock & Roll trail would make it nearly impossible for her group to hold their annual race at Cacapon State Park.

While an RV campground nearby would be a benefit to cycling families, she said that particular location would not be workable for holding the race, which draws around 200 cyclists.

County officials asked the DNR to carefully consider the location, scope and arrangement of any potential RV campground at Cacapon, and how it might impact the natural features of the park, its infrastructure and future mountain bike trail plans.

Supporters of the park who filled the commission meeting room last Wednesday shared a wider variety of specific concerns about a potential RV business inside the park.

Craig Thibaudeau, who is organizing a new group called the Friends of Cacapon Resort State Park, said he was disturbed that local residents, users of the park and even local officials weren’t asked about their desire for an RV campground or how it might fit into a park that is heavily used by local residents.

Craig Thibaudeau, organizers of the Friends of Cacapon Resort State Park, talks to a crowded County Commission meeting about RV campground issues at the park.

Several people raised questions about how RV traffic would be handled at the entrance to Cacapon State Park, which is directly on U.S. 522 at the bottom of a hill in a 55-mile-per-hour speed zone. Some suggested a whole new entrance would be needed to accommodate the larger vehicles, which would have trouble navigating the narrow roads once they entered the park.

One park user, a native plant specialist in Winchester, said she thought any RV park would harm the park’s peace and ecosystem. If the state insisted on an RV campground, she suggested it be located near the golf course, far from park trails and the park’s center.

Harry Weiss, a resident of Cacapon South and longtime park volunteer, said he doesn’t think local residents see an RV campground as a benefit to the park.

“522 would become a circus,” Weiss said.

He said adding an RV campground would require extensive changes to the park, from modifying the entrance to widening roads, drilling water wells, moving trees and expanding electric and sewer service.

Weiss noted that volunteers who have given hundreds of hours of free work to make the park more enjoyable weren’t consulted about the idea of adding an RV campground. He and others noted that the park’s busiest areas – the lake beach, playground and picnic pavilions – are already crowded during the busy summer season.

“I see locals getting crowded out of the beach, picnic pavilions, hiking and biking trails,” said Weiss.

Stan Oakes said he hikes at Cacapon for the “serenity and peace” of the park. He said he doesn’t want that ruined by noise pollution from RV generators and other activities.

Carol Reece said the size of RVs will keep them from fitting the park’s roads and terrain.

“I do think there’s too much development at the park already,” said Reece. She noted that Cooper’s Rock State Forest, which is twice the acreage of Cacapon, has only two campgrounds – 50 sites for tents and 25 spots for RVs.

A resident near Great Cacapon said he knows Cacapon State Park “really well” and is himself is an RV traveler.

“I’m not sure Cacapon is a good park for RVs,” he said.

Most parks with RV camping have a separate entrance for the vehicles and have designated roads for their travel.

He noted that RV sales are actually starting to drop after big pandemic jumps in sales, and the market may change further.

“We don’t want to overinvest in something that will be a ghost town in ten years’ time,” he said.

Another park volunteer said she has been part of getting grants, designing and planting pollinator areas at Cacapon. She said adding an RV campground would lead to a “trampled” park – one where natural areas were overused.

“There is a whole community of plants and birds and aquatic life near the Nature Center,” she told commissioners.

She suggested the county and state need an independent environmental impact statement for any RV proposal.

“To put it near the Nature Center is – the only word I can think of – is stupid,” she said.

Gareth Foulds said the County Commissioners should be paying attention to the tax impacts of a private RV park inside a state park.

He said the county should be promoting the location of a private RV park outside the park boundaries, where they can tax the land and business, and the park isn’t impacted.

Rebecca MacLeod said she has concerns about the soils and other conditions of the park’s ecosystem that would be affected by construction of an RV campground. She noted that an overflow parking lot near the Bath House is not used, and could handle smaller RVs with existing roads, a level area and proximity to the park entrance. She said a larger development in the park would impact resources in the larger Berkeley Springs area.

Chuck Marsh of the Sleepy Creek Watershed Association said Cacapon State Park is a “significant park of the watershed” and his group is concerned about the impacts on Indian Run and stormwater management in the area. He reminded commissioners that volunteers with his group have gotten funding and put forth labor to plant 500 trees at Cacapon State Park in recent years. Those trees can’t replace any old-growth stands taken out for construction of a campground, he said.

Other speakers emphasized that any campground plans should be “reasonable” and fit into the existing park without putting undue pressure on trails, water, sewer, electric and road systems.

Commission President Sean Forney said Monday he wants state officials to hear the list of concerns.

“I’m not against the project, I just want it to be thought out,” said Forney.

Campground proposals must be submitted to the West Virginia DNR by March 3, and must include site plans, financial analysis, financing specifics and a marketing strategy. The state is seeking a private company with specialty in the campground industry to design, build, finance and operate the facility in Cacapon under state oversight.