Getting a taste of Mountain State tourism

by Kate Shunney

West Virginia’s newest Governor’s School closed out their first summer session with Mountain State students at Cacapon State Park during the last weekend of June.

Students, teachers and coordinators of the Governor’s School for Tourism met with Cacapon park staff and specialists, bike trail leaders, the Park Naturalist and West Virginia University tourism experts to understand Cacapon State Park’s importance and its role in the state’s tourism industry.

Cacapon Park Superintendent Scott Fortney welcomed students at the Batt Pavilion area on a warm summer Saturday as mountain bike activity picked up in the area.

Students with the Governor’s School of Tourism listen to Danny Twilley, Assistant Vice President of Economic, Community and Asset Development at WVU, talk about the development of Cacapon State Park’s growing bike trail system.
photo by Kate Shunney

“This has been great,” Fortney said, of being a tour stop for the School for Tourism. “Kids didn’t realize the state had so much to offer.”

Berkeley Springs High School student Cami Andrews was one of the West Virginia students selected to attend the inaugural Governor’s School this summer. She agreed that visiting the state’s travel regions and attractions was an eye-opener.

“I enjoyed touring the state capital, I thought it was really pretty. We visited Lost World Caverns and got lucky enough to have the opportunity to tour the caves and learn about the history there,” she said last week.

Dozens of students chosen for the 10-day summer academy took a statewide tour of regions and sights on chartered buses, staying in parks and private lodging along the way. They visited Wheeling, Morgantown, Parkersburg, Charleston, Logan, the New River Gorge region, Summersville, Beckley, Lewisburg, Seneca Rocks, Blackwater Falls, Harpers Ferry and Cacapon State Park.

At each stop, students met with people who work in outdoor recreation, the arts, cultural sites, hospitality and lodging and the culinary arts. They learned about the state’s history, geology, natural attributes and its future growth areas.

Asked if the Governor’s School for Tourism made her consider a future career in West Virginia’s tourism industry, Andrews said she got a bigger picture view from the experience.

“I’m not sure what I want to do yet, but it gave me a great appreciation for people who love our state and who dedicate their lives to make sure other people love it as well,” Andrews said.

Alison Conroy of West Virginia University said WVU was excited to be the organization chosen to facilitate the new Governor’s School for Tourism. During the process of putting the academy together and hiring teachers that would accompany students, she said they were overwhelmed by the passion and knowledge of instructors who both know and love West West Virginia and experience in sharing it with others.

At the close of the academy at Cacapon, Conroy said she saw how the experience changed the students, exposing them to new places, recreational opportunities and future possibilities.

Cacapon State Park naturalist staff member Allen Miller talks to students in the Governor’s School of Tourism at the Batt Pavilion about Cacapon’s geologic history.
photo by Kate Shunney

“I have seen this program impact the lives of students tremendously,” said Conroy. “They’ve stepped out of their boxes.”

“We look forward to seeing the impacts of this later in their lives,” Conroy said, as students consider new career paths they never knew existed before.

The academy was a cooperative effort among the West Virginia Division of Tourism, WVU and the Department of Education.

“This is operationally different than all of the Governor’s Schools,” Conroy noted. All other schools take place on a college campus in the state. The Governor’s School for Tourism hit the road for a 1,000-mile journey and tour on all sorts of terrain.

At Cacapon State Park, students were introduced to the geology of the park and Cacapon Mountain above them, they learned about the history of the CCC campers who built the park’s original facilities, from the Batt Pavilion they sat under to the legacy cabins.

Demonstrations on the park’s new bike pump track, skills features for mountain bikes and BMX bikes and new mountain bike trails were a centerpiece of students’ visit to Cacapon.

Danny Twilley, Assistant Vice President of Economic, Community and Asset Development at WVU, led the bike area tours with help from local riders and bike advocates Matt and Danielle Hovermale.

Local rider and bike advocate Matt Hovermale demonstrates techniques on the new pump track at Cacapon.

Twilley told students how the new network of mountain bike trails at Cacapon had been envisioned, developed and funded, and how they fit into the tourism industry in the region. He led students along bike trails to acquaint them with trail signage and features installed to serve bicyclists.

Students watched excitedly as local bikers made jumps and took hills and turns on the park’s skill area.

Danielle Hovermale show students some of the skills features on Cacapon’s new bike trails.

Despite the intense travel and tight schedule, Andrews said she would encourage other local students to seek out the academy experience as she did.

“I would totally recommend the Governor’s School of Tourism to anyone willing to step out of their comfort zone and learn about tourism in West Virginia with amazing people,” she said.

Cacapon Naturalist Valerie Chaney shares Cacapon State Park and CCC history with tourism academy students on June 29 in the Batt Pavilion.
photo by Kate Shunney