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Keep Parks Free, Well Maintained

October 21, 2013
The Intelligencer / Wheeling News-Register

West Virginia's state parks and forests are among the best in this region of the country. They make it easy for Mountain State residents to enjoy the splendor and sometimes the solitude of nature. They help make out-of-state visitors understand why we refer to our home as wild and wonderful.

A family can spend a day in one of our parks and go home having enjoyed hundreds of dollars' worth of fun at today's rates for recreation and entertainment - without spending a dime. Some states charge admission fees to their parks. West Virginia does not - and should not.

But it costs money to maintain facilities at the parks, along with access to some of their most attractive natural features. For many years, the state has not spent enough for that purpose.

State legislators are being asked again to consider more funding for maintenance at parks, forests, wildlife management areas and the state's two rail-trails. It has been pointed out nearly 200 of the almost 1,500 buildings in the park system are 75 years of age or older.

Veteran visitors to the parks may have noticed that some of the older buildings, constructed during the Depression era, actually seem in better shape than more recently constructed facilities. Any homeowner understands that structures wear out with use, and that preventive maintenance saves money in the long run. In addition, work is needed on roads, power lines, water and sewer lines and other types of park infrastructure.

The 35 separate areas in the park system are supported by a $38.7 million annual budget. That has to be one of the most striking good deals in government spending. And part of the money is provided by the parks themselves, through lodges, restaurants, etc.

Again, however, spending has not kept up with maintenance needs. Park officials have warned for years that irreversible deterioration would occur without more spending.

Once again the issue has drawn the attention of legislators. One proposal is to provide $3 million annually for maintenance work.

One way of obtaining more money would be to charge entrance fees, of course. Park officials don't like the idea. We have heard of no enthusiasm for it among legislators, either.

The parks should be free to anyone who wants to visit them. But more money for repairs and occasionally, improvements should be provided to keep our parks, forests and other recreation facilities in good shape.

Three million dollars a year is a lot of money. But in the context of the state budget, it is a realistic amount. State legislators should begin providing it - or even a little more.

 
 

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