The Register-Herald, Beckley, West Virginia

August 20, 2013

Needing a fix

Finding answer to question of parks’ crumbling infrastructure imperative

— West Virginia’s lawmakers will soon have some decisions to make concerning our state parks.

Among the questions that need to be answered is, where will the money needed for repairs and badly needed maintenance come from?

In a meeting earlier this week of Finance Subcommittee B during legislative interims, Parks Director Ken Caplinger spoke about how other states fund parks, but cautioned that the DNR isn’t making any recommendations, since it’s a policy decision for lawmakers.

Some states raise funds through taxes on bottled water and soft drinks, severance taxes on natural resources, entry or parking fees, tobacco tax, and taxes on sporting goods associated with camping, such as cook stoves, sleeping bags and tents.

The issue is expansive.

And expensive.

A recent study by the legislative auditor’s office showed the parks system needs $3 million annually for maintenance and equipment replacement.

The West Virginia DNR oversees 35 parks, five wildlife areas and two rail trails. Caplinger also noted that 189 state park buildings are 75 years old or older and on average, buildings are 42 years of age.

The park system employs 433 full-time staffers and some 1,000 hourly ones during the summer months.

Last year, West Virginia state parks hosted 6.6 million visitors.

The beauty and activities that our state has to offer is important in drawing tourists.

The grist mill at Babcock State Park is one of the most recognizable scenes that our state has to offer, and one of the most photographed icons in West Virginia.

And everyone can easily identify the view from the overlook at Hawk’s Nest State Park.

Little Beaver, Pipestem, Twin Falls and Bluestone and the Greenbrier River Trail are among the most beloved destinations among tourists and state residents alike.

Their beauty is unmatched, and West Virginians take great pride in these and other state parks.

Tourism is very important to our state.

So it is imperative that we come up with solutions to assure that our “Wild, Wonderful” motto doesn’t become a “Drab, Undesirable” situation.

Not only for us, but for the generations to come.