West Virginia's state parks-the natural gems that attract thousands of visitors to the state every year-are in need of a facelift. Many of the parks' buildings are at least 75 years old-some older. They are showing that wear. In addition, the storms of 2012-the June derecho and October's Superstrom caused widespread damage that in many cases still has not been repaired.
However, funding during the past 15-20 years has not been able to keep pace with the decline in the parks' infrastructure. A recent legislative audit recommended at least $3 million in additional funding for the major repairs needed. Recently, the legislature began exploring ways to increase funding to help meet these infrastructure needs. While nothing was decided, several options were explored-including charging an admission fee to be paid at the parks' gates.
Since most out-of-state park visitors are coming in to stay overnight, already paying to either camp or staying at lodges, an entrance fee would seem to hit hardest those people using the parks for day trips. Most of those people it seems would be state residents. And many probably would not make as many trips if a fee is charged.
The parks's annual budget is $38.7 million. They are funded through general revenue and Lottery funds, as well as other funds. The state has many pressing needs, and a shrinking budget. It won't be easy to find an additional $3 million in funding as recommended by the recent audit. Charging a fee could be the most logical method of finding the needed money. Several other states have gone to an entry fee.
However, we hope charging a fee will be a last resort. The state park system is not some drain on the budget. While maybe not paying its own way, lawmakers should remember the park system brings in nearly 7 million visits annually, and generates $127 million annually in economic activity.
Lawmakers should think carefully before enacting a policy that could possibly lower the number of visitors.