By Heather Clower
The Parsons Advocate
West Virginia Governor Jim Justice has dedicated years and millions of dollars to the preservation and renovations of the W.Va. State Parks. After receiving a W.Va. State Police escort to Blackwater Lodge, Gov. Justice addressed a small crowd who gathered to hear him speak of the plans for both Blackwater Falls and Canaan Valley State Park.
Stephen McDaniel, Director of W.Va. Division of Natural Resources, welcomed everyone to the lodge before saying, “We’ve dealt with a lot as a state over the last several months, and it’s nice to come together like this and celebrate a lot of the victories that we’ve had.” He introduced Gov. Justice as he turned the microphone over to him.
He began talking briefly about the Coronavirus pandemic, stating, “It hit us out of nowhere.” He asked that those who have been affected and lost loved ones be kept in everyone’s thoughts and prayers. “West Virginia’s numbers are fabulous and we should be very, very proud of what we’ve done,” Gov. Justice said. He commended everyone for doing their part in helping keep the numbers low within the state and asked for the citizens to continue to do so.
“I’m never going to be a politician,” Gov, Justice continued. “I’m going to speak to you just like you’d be in my house and I’m going to speak to you from my heart.” He suggested everyone take a step back and appreciate the beauty throughout W.Va. and focus on the positives. “We have the greatest people, we have the greatest resources, we’re within a rocks throw of two thirds of the population of the country, absolutely we have the most unbelievable seasons and the most unbelievable beauty, so for God’s sakes alivin why in the world, can’t we make this go,” he said.
Approximately $5 million worth of renovations are being conducted within the Blackwater Lodge in conjunction with Gov. Justice’s mission to better all of the State Parks. By doing this, he feels people will continue to come to the state and enjoy what W.Va. has to offer as well as stimulate the economy.
McDaniel stepped back behind the podium and stated that the majority of the State Parks were built or developed between the 1930s and 1970s. “In WV we have a great history of building things but we don’t have a very good history of taking care of what we built,” McDaniel said. He explained his concern to Gov. Justice who said if McDaniel’s found a way to pay for the improvements and maintenance that were needed, he would support the efforts. “This gentleman, with his backing, we’ve been able to invest $100 million into your state parks in the last four years,” McDaniel said.
Approximately seven million guests visit the State Parks throughout the year, though in August alone, 529,000 cars went through with an average of 3.2 people per vehicle for total visitors nearly equal to the 1.8 million who populate the state.
Blackwater Lodge along with the cabins was built in the 1950s and had very little maintenance in that time. To date, the cabins have been remodeled, money has gone towards the sled run, the lodge rooms and dining facilities are set to be renovated, the Canaan Valley cabins are being updated, and water and sewage lines are also being replaced. “At the end of the day, what we’ve spent so far is a little over $12 million,” McDaniel said. Other project goals have been set if funding can be found to support them. McDaniel recognized and thanked the park rangers and staff who have dedicated their livelihood to W.Va. State Parks.
Chelsea Ruby, Commissioner of the W.Va. Division of Tourism, offered some statistics within the tourism realm of the state. “This is a community who knows and understands tourism and we appreciate the hospitality that you guys provide to visitors each and every day,” she began. She continued by stating that Gov. Justice is the best advocate for tourism and the State Parks that W.Va. has had as he came into office with a desire to turn around the industry. “The industry had been declining for several years and we’ve turned it around,” said Ruby. Tourism brings in $4.6 billion each year while employing 45,000 individuals. The marketing budget, which used to fall behind that of others, has tripled which Ruby thanked Gov. Justice for.
“These parks, like Stephen (McDaniel) said, haven’t seen money to do real investments and improvements in years and years,” Ruby continued, and now have received $100 million. Not only has the state invested into their parks, but more private investments have been implemented, such as that of Perfect North Slopes purchasing Timberline Mountain. “It’s folks like you who are helping us grow this industry even more,” she added.
Gov. Justice took the microphone to state, “You have become the diamond in the rough that everybody missed.” In the past, he felt the image of W.Va. was dark and that it was like, “We were in a race all the time to see who would be dead last, us or Mississippi.” What has been decided since then is what was missed was that diamond in the rough. Gov. Justice said that once visitors to the state get to know the residents, they see the love and appreciation that is instilled in the people. “We are loving, we are caring, we’re low crime, we’re faith based, and we’re craftsmen, and absolutely we’re great, great, great neighbors,” he said. These values are what become the resources of W.Va. “I want goodness for W.Va.,” Gov. Justice continued. “I’ve always thought you were the best, I’ve always thought this state was the best, and the only reason in the world I ever ran was a crying, pitiful shame that we couldn’t be the best.” Though W.Va. isn’t the best in every aspect, he feels certain that “We’re on our way.”
In an interview with Gov. Justice after the press conference, he was asked why he chose Tucker County to make this announcement. “Absolutely, Tucker County has beauty beyond belief and we are just doing things from remodeling cabins, to doing stuff with the cycling and biking, and hiking and the sled trail, and so many different things,” Gov. Justice responded. “Not just here,” he continued, “but we’re also doing things at Canaan and we’ve got a wonderful fellow here (Jonathan Davis with Perfect North Slopes and Timberline Mountain) that is absolutely stepping up to the plate and doing great things.”
Gov. Justice was then asked what makes tourism so important in W.Va., to which he responded, “We have treated tourism so badly it’s unbelievable. Tourism is an opportunity off the chart for us to be able to diversify within our state.” He continued by stating the main focus used to be coal, and not to forget the importance of it and the coal miners, but said the state needs to diversify and utilize tourism in every way.
Prior to departing back to the Capital, Gov. Justice took time to speak with anyone interested and snap some photos.