BUCKHANNON, W.Va. – West Virginia Governor Jim Justice gathered with tourism and state park officials Friday at Audra State Park for an announcement which promises to impact those planning visits to West Virginia State Parks.
Justice said $3.5 million in campground upgrades are scheduled at 16 state parks and forests, ranging from bathhouse upgrades to electrical improvements. Those parks affected include Audra, Babcock, Beech Fork, Blackwater Falls, Bluestone, Cabwaylingo, Camp Creek, Cedar Creek, Chief Logan, Coopers Rock, Holly River, Kanawha, Moncove Lake, Twin Falls, Tygart and Watoga.
Also beginning Friday, residents and tourists can reserve campsites online before they set out for the great outdoors in West Virginia thanks to an upgraded reservation system.
“Our state parks and forests are a cornerstone of West Virginia’s tourism industry, and improving the way people plan their trip is going to make visiting Almost Heaven that much more of a memorable experience,” Justice said in a press release Friday.
The new reservation system allows campers to select a site at any West Virginia State Park on their smartphones, tablets or computers in advance of their trip and be assured the spot will be available when they arrive.
Justice told those gathered at Audra Friday that it was a great, great day for the State of West Virginia.
“The net of the whole thing is just this – now you can go online and you can find stuff about our parks and our campsites, you can find things about our improvements. The net of the whole thing is that we are up 43%. The nation is looking at West Virginia and calling and asking what we are doing,” Justice said.
He said the goal is to show West Virginia to the world.
“Let the world see just a little bit of West Virginia and they will all come running,” Justice said. “We are having a celebration of West Virginia today. I wish I had my fly rod – I would be right out there. I love the outdoors.”
Justice said people should have been able to go online years ago and book campsites.
“We weren’t able to do it before, but Chelsea [Ruby] and her team has been able to make it a reality,” Justice said. “Being online will take us further and further forward in being able to bring people to the state of West Virginia.”
He said the multiplier affect of a tourism dollar is six to 14 times.
“What we need in West Virginia is to diversify ourselves,” he said. “We want all of our coal miners back to work – but in addition to that we need manufacturing, tourism and high tech. We need the things to make our state go, rather than relying on just one thing.”
“Camping is one of the most popular activities at state parks and forests, so making all campsites reservable on the parks website simplifies the reservation process for our guests,” said Stephen McDaniel, Director of the West Virginia Division of Natural Resources. “The new, paperless process makes it easier for guests to plan a family trip filled with good times and fond memories.”
McDaniel said Audra State Park holds a special place in his heart.
“My parents and I did a lot of camping,” McDaniel said. “My best friend, Travis Jones, is in the audience. He and I met at the campground up at Twin Lakes and we spent a lot of time there as children.”
He said when he accepted his position, he sat down with Justice, who told him he wanted to get the West Virginia State Parks back to where they need to be.
“He told me to figure out what needs to be done and get it done,” McDaniel said. “Today is one of many announcements of what we have been doing. There have been lots of infrastructure improvements, not only in campgrounds but in the lodges and cabins.”
McDaniel said Audra State Park has 39 campsites with full electric.
“We are building an ADA-accessible bathroom down here and we are going to be building one up at the shelter,” McDaniel said. “It’s a great day to be in West Virginia. We are excited about the upcoming season. [We have] 1,800 campsites as of right now and you can go online for the first time ever and you can reserve a campsite. Folks, that is big. Our local people know about our campgrounds, but the people traveling through West Virginia that go to that website could not know if there was going to be a campsite. We are excited for that.”
The press release said the demand for camping at some parks is so high that the state used a mail-in system, which will now be phased out. The existing mail-in reservations will be honored and phone-in reservations are still available. Walk-in reservations will still be allowed, subject to availability. Campers are encouraged to make a reservation at least one day in advance of arriving.
“Many of our guests enjoy camping at the same park each year, so we’re excited to give them a new way to plan and enjoy their vacations,” said Sam England, chief of West Virginia State Parks. “Offering online reservations also opens up our beautiful parks and forests to a new generation of visitors, who will soon come to love a favorite park or forest of their own.”
All picnic shelters in the park system are available for reservations as well.
West Virginia Tourism Commissioner Chelsea Ruby said they are hoping folks will learn more about West Virginia’s beautiful campgrounds and plan trips to see the state.
“Allowing potential visitors to see availability online will make us much more accessible to a whole new set of campers,” she said.
Ruby told those gathered at Audra State Park Friday that since its launch that morning, total reservations for that first day had already topped 1,000. She said the idea for online reservations began about 2.5 years ago when the Justice explained his passion for the West Virginia State Parks.
“He told us about being at Babcock State Park when he was in college and helping with trout stocking,” Ruby said. “He talked to us about how great the parks are, and in that meeting he told us two things – we have to fix up these parks and we have to make it where people can make online reservations. We are making great strides and we are there on both of these projects and starting to see results.”
Ruby said tourism directors from other states are envious of West Virginia and the support we have for tourism and our state parks.
“This year, we are outpacing last year’s advance reservations by 43%,” Ruby said. “With today’s additions with the campsites, we are going to make greater gains.”
Currently, West Virginia’s state parks and forests are visited by more than 7 million people each year who enjoy recreational opportunities like hiking, fishing and other exciting outdoor adventures like the new Pipestem Peaks Zipline Tour at Pipestem Resort State Park.
Reservations for all campsites and picnic shelters are available one year in advance, beginning on the first day of the month for that month. Exploring availability or making a reservation is available online at www.wvstateparks.com,by calling 1-833-WVPARKS, or by stopping by a designated check-in station or park office.