This time next week, it will officially be summer. It's like what I said last week, it is time for outdoor lovers to think about doing all sorts of activities, like family picnics, camping trips, golfing, swimming parties, visiting one of the many state parks or forests, varmint hunting and tuning up your marksmanship skills.
The West Virginia State Park and Forest System is an outdoor lovers paradise full of recreational facilities and culture.
For more than 80 years, this system has provided quality recreation for West Virginians and growing numbers of vacationers from out of state. Since I started writing this column, several people from other states have told me this state sure has "plenty of the good life."
Our state park system actually began in 1929 with the establishment of Droop Mountain State Park.
One of the state's largest Civil War battles was fought here. Today, it is a peaceful park of more than 280 acres, with scenic overlooks, hiking trails, museum, and picnic areas.
It is located in Pocahontas County on U.S. 219 near Hillsboro. It is also interesting to know that Hillsboro is the birthplace of American writer Pearl Buck.
During the years of the Great Depression, emphasis was placed on creation of a parks and vacation lands system in the Mountain State. In the mid 1930s, state parks like Babcock, Cacapon, Holly River, Lost River, and Watoga were started. The development of vacation cabins, hiking trails, lakes, and swimming pools were undertaken by the state in cooperation with the old Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC). Here was the beginning of our fine system that has continued to grow and ranks at or near the top nationally among state park facilities.
Some of the park and forest cabins have been booked or reserved for several months in advance.
A few of the cabins are the old-time log-style type with no electric or running water. These are for the people who want to get away from the "rat race" of urban life and "rough it" for a few days. Other cabins are of modern construction that provide quality family outdoor lodging like the ones at North Bend State Park in Ritchie County.
Here is where my wife Ruth and I spent our honeymoon in the dead of the winter in 1984.
The greatest period of demand for more recreational facilities came after World War II. At this time, West Virginia chose to expand and develop more state parks to meet this demand. By the mid 1950s, some parks had year-round public facilities with modern cabins and lodges such as Blackwater Falls and Cacapon State Parks. Funds to build these facilities came from the state's first revenue bond program. Money was borrowed for construction and repaid over a period of several years from earnings through public rental. Blackwater Falls State Park is a typical example of this.
In 1968, a large expansion program was completed at the Cass Scenic Railroad with the renovation of 11 miles of trackage to Bald Knob. This is the third highest point in West Virginia (4,843 feet). The entire town of Cass is managed by the State, and 16 of the company houses have been made into guest cabins.
Another unique feature within the state park system are the Greenbrier River and North Bend Rail Trails. Both of these trails were once railroad lines. The rails and ties have been removed and resurfaced with crushed limestone.
Motor vehicles of any type are not permitted on these trails. They can be used for backpacking, biking, hiking, and horseback riding during good weather. They are great for cross-country skiing during the winter.
All West Virginians should be proud of our state recreational system. Thousands of out-of-state tourists will be visiting our parks and forests this year. This means big money coming into the state's economy. Therefore, we need to welcome our guests with "open arms."