State parks bouncing back after ravages of 2012 storms
CHARLESTON, W.Va. - It's been a rough year for West Virginia's state parks system.
Last June, a system of severe windstorms termed a derecho wreaked havoc on much of the state, causing damage to many of the 36 state parks. Just as cleanup efforts from the derecho were winding down, along came Sandy.
Kenneth Caplanger, chief of the Division of Natural Resources, said the derecho caused $1.3 million in direct and indirect losses, but business was beginning to show signs of recovery at the beginning of the fall.
"We took a very large revenue hit, but business was just starting to pick up and get back to normal when Superstorm Sandy came through," he said.
When Sandy hit last October, it caused damage to six state parks and one wildlife management area.
Much of the debris, fallen trees and property damage have been repaired or removed in the following months, but one park remains closed and others still bear signs of the storms.
Brad Reed, district administrator for the parks system, said most of the damage from Sandy at Blackwater Falls, Canaan Valley, Holly River, Hawks Nest, Kumbrabow State Parks and Plum Orchard Wildlife Management Area has been repaired.
Only Cathedral State Park remains closed.
"All of our areas, other than Cathedral, are now open for business and back to normal," Reed said.
Hoy Murphy, public information officer for the DNR, estimated damage from Sandy cost the parks system more than $200,000.
Reed said cleanup costs from both storms, which so far have totaled well over $1 million, have been handled by a combination of in-house and contracted workers.
Thanks to reimbursements from the state Board of Risk and Insurance Management and the Federal Emergency Management Agency, Murphy said the parks system has "largely been made whole for the majority of expenditures."
The boardwalk at Blackwater Falls, which has been closed to the public because of tree damage, has been repaired and reopened.
"We have some very dedicated employees who have gone beyond work expectations in getting it repaired and reopened," Robert Gilligan, Blackwater Falls State Park superintendent, said in a press release.
"This summer and into the future, visitors will observe nature's self-healing and the continued recovery work at the park staff and local volunteers."
John Bracken, superintendent of Hawks Nest State Park, said both the derecho and Sandy affected the park.
Following the derecho, the tree damage was so extensive Bracken had to call in a 125-ton crane to remove uprooted trees from walking trails.
"We really got hammered on that one," he said. "Then we turned right around and got hammered again by Sandy," he said.
Minor damage from Sandy toppled trees across the park, causing a loss of power that forced it to close for five days. Hawks Nest lost an estimated $6,000 while the park was closed.
Across the park, $7,200 worth of damages and cleanup costs were sustained, but 75 percent was reimbursed by FEMA. Remaining funds came from the park's already-strained operating budget.
"They (FEMA) came through, but the state parks budget is so slim right now, anything we can do to save money, we're trying to do," Bracken said.
The unexpected expenses are being felt at Hawks Nest.
Normally Bracken is able to make purchases for the park just by following state purchasing procedures. Since Sandy, Bracken has been required to seek prior approval through Reed's office before making any major purchases or spending decisions.
"We can't afford anything; we're just surviving," he said.
Despite cutbacks and freezes on spending and hiring, Bracken said his park has managed to increase its revenues and did a booming business over the Memorial Day weekend.
"Revenues are up, occupancies are up, (rides on) the jet boats are up, (rides on) the tram are up. Even in a depressed economy right now, we're doing much better than the average person, the average business," Bracken said.
Contact writer Charles Young at firstname.lastname@example.org or 304-348-1796.
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