W.Va. governor halts proposed entrance fee at state parks

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Early Summer at Babcock Mill, Babcock State Park, Fayette County, New River Gorge Region
Early Summer at Babcock Mill

West Virginia Governor Jim Justice announced late Tuesday that he is ending a plan proposed by the the Division of Natural Resources to charge visitors an entrance fee at several state parks and a state forest.

The Governor called the division’s announcement an error and ordered the pilot program canceled. The initiative was put in motion without the Governor’s approval.

When Justice found out about the proposed park fees, he canceled the pilot project.

“West Virginians are struggling, and at this time there is no way I can go along with charging a fee to enjoy our state parks,” the governor declared, according to a report by WDTV.

Visitors to six West Virginia state parks and a state forest were to be charged entrance fees this year, according to Stephen McDaniel, director of the W.Va. Division of Natural Resources.

The fees were part of a pilot project designed to support the state parks system’s maintenance costs, which McDaniel said could generate an additional $1 million annually for maintenance and upkeep.

“This is a pilot project that likely will evolve over time,” McDaniel said.

“Other states incorporate parks passes to bolster maintenance costs. We believe West Virginia can use the same approach as we address maintenance and upkeep in the 21st century of special places we return to visit decade after decade.”

A $2-per-person entrance fee would have been charged at Coopers Rock State Forest and at Babcock, Blackwater, Cacapon, Little Beaver, Pipestem and Valley Falls state parks.

Two types of passes were to be available, McDaniel said. An annual pass providing unlimited entrance to the parks may be purchased for $12 per vehicle, and a daily pass may be purchased for $2 per vehicle for a single day use. Exemptions for overnight guests and school groups that schedule visits at least a week in advance will be available.

Justice moved swiftly to end the launch shortly after hearing about it.

“The move was announced without my approval. It’s a bad idea and I’m going to fix it.”

The governor declared, “West Virginia’s state parks will remain free and open to the public. When I see a mistake, I make it right.”