Outdoor recreation is big business, and it depends on public lands.
Every year, over 7 million people visit West Virginia’s State Parks and State Forests, adding between $160 million and $190 million in fresh revenue to local economies. Outside of the 400 full time and 1000 seasonal employees that work directly for State Parks and State Forests, tourism to these places supports the equivalent of an additional 3,200 full time jobs in the Mountain State.
As you would expect, parks with lodges and resorts bring in the most money. The parks with the largest economic impact for 2015 were Blackwater Falls, Pipestem, and Stonewall, all of which have lodges. Out of the non-lodge parks, Beech Fork, Watoga, and Little Beaver had the largest economic impact. Lodge rooms and cabin rentals are the largest sources of revenue for State Parks by far, each bringing in over $5 million in 2017. Gift shop sales and campsite rentals each totaled over $2 million in 2017, while restaurants brought in roughly $1.4 million. Revenue generated from fees tends to be smaller, although still significant. For instance, greens fees brought in roughly $580,000 in 2017, while swimming fees accounted for roughly $400,000.
There is also still plenty of room to grow. Tourism spending increase by over 6% a year between 2000 and 2012, but West Virginia still lags behind many other states that do more to invest in and promote outdoor tourism. The West Virginia Division of Natural Resources (DNR) has identified lack of funding as the leading challenge facing our State Park system, with a $40 million wish list of maintenance and renovation projects. The good news is that we know those projects pay off- for every dollar that is put into the state parks and recreation system, over $13 in new economic activity is generated.