By MELINDA WILLIAMS
Attendance increased at Claytor Lake State Park in 2012, helping to boost the local economy by more than $8.5 million, according to figures recently released by Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation (DCR).
This past year attendance at all of the Commonwealth’s 35 state parks rose 7 percent over 2011 figures, to reach a record level, the report adds. This despite the fact 12 of the state parks were affected by the June Derecho storm and that Douthat State Park was closed through its busiest time, July 4.
“This is a remarkable achievement and demonstrates that Virginians continue to love their state parks and use them during these tough economic times,” said DCR Director David A. Johnson. “I’ve visited every state park, some of them many times, and local officials repeatedly tell me how important the nearby state park is to their area.”
DCR manages the Commonwealth’s state park system.
According to the report, nearly 15,000 more people visited Claytor Lake State Park during 2012 than visited there in 2011. Last year’s attendance was 300,435, compared to 285,835 a year earlier. DCR reports that 65,765 of 2012’s visitors stayed overnight at the park.
The report estimates the total economic impact the park had on Pulaski County’s economy at $8,687,095, up more than $600,000 from 2011’s estimated impact of $8,054,360.
However, Claytor Lake wasn’t the only state park having an impact on the local economy.
New River Trail State Park, a linear park which passes through Pulaski, Carroll, Grayson, and Wythe counties, the city of Galax, and the towns of Pulaski and Fries, was estimated to have had a total $17.2 million economic impact during 2012.
Over a million visitors were said to have used New River Trail State Park last year, with a little over 8,000 people using overnight facilities available through the state park.
“… New River Trail attracted more than a million visitors, from numerous other states. There are many state park visitors spending lots of time and money in regions of Virginia hit hardest by the downturn in the economy,” said Johnson.
He pointed out that attendance more than doubled at another of the state’s linear trail parks in 2012. High Bridge Trail State Park, which passes through the town of Farmville and the counties of Cumberland, Prince Edward, Nottoway and Appomattox, saw an increase in visitation from 86,110 in 2011 to 188,467 in 2012.
“In a few years, this park has grown from being a decommissioned railroad bed to being a major regional attraction,” he said.
All of Virginia’s state parks contributed just under $200 million to the economy thanks to the record attendance of 8,366,179 visitors, the report estimates.
First Landing State Park in Virginia Beach is the most visited state park. with more than 1.5 million visitors and an economic impact of $33.6 million last year.
“More than 2,000 jobs are created as a direct result of Virginia State Parks,” Johnson said. “Towns and communities across Virginia directly feel” their impact.
Overnight attendance in state parks also set a record with 1,101,915 visitors, a 4 percent increase over 2011, the previous record year for overnight attendance.