BERKELEY SPRINGS, W.Va. — For the past 18 months, a group of Morgan County officials and residents led by Morgan County Commissioner Stacy Dugan drove nearly 6,000 miles back and forth to Charleston, W.Va., to lobby the governor and state legislature for money to expand Cacapon State Park.
On Monday afternoon, Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin presided over a ceremonial signing of the senate bill that set up a $52.5 million, 30-year bond issue to be shared equally between Cacapon State Park and Beech Fork State Park in Wayne County on the other side of the state.
Cacapon State Park’s share will build an 80-room addition to the park’s existing 48-room main lodge. It will add much-needed accommodations to support the park’s conference room and its capacity for 250 patrons, said Thomas D. Ambrose, the park’s superintendent.
Some of the money will pay for upgrades to the park’s infrastructure and its 18-hole golf course. Golfers play an average of 20,000 rounds a year, said Dave Pruitt, assistant course superintendent.
Tomblin, in brief remarks to a crowd of more than 100 who stood on a breezy knoll facing the main lodge’s front porch, said bids on the bond issue won’t go out until next spring. Construction won’t begin until the bonds are sold.
“This money will stay at Cacapon State Park, I promise you that,” Tomblin said.
The bonds will be repaid at a rate of $3 million a year from slot machine revenue, said state Sen. Herb Snyder, D-Jefferson/Berkeley, who filed the bonding bill and shepherded it through the Senate.
It picked up support in the House from Speaker of the House Richard Thompson, D-Wayne, who also spoke at Monday’s ceremony. He said he has lobbied for years for funds to build Beech Fork State Park’s first lodge.
While Monday marked Tomblin’s fifth visit to the Panhandle in as many weeks, it was his first visit to Morgan County as governor.
Dugan singled out Snyder for his efforts in getting the bill passed. Snyder said it would not have passed without Thompson’s help in the House.
Proponents of the Cacapon project said it will attract visitors from the Eastern Panhandle and nearby counties to the south and west. It is also in a “strategic location” to the Washington, D.C., area, Tomblin said.
Snyder said Berkeley Springs State Park in downtown Berkeley Springs, the state’s smallest park, and Cacapon, its second largest, “are the only two state parks in this part of the state. The bond issue is an investment in the region’s future,” he said.
Cacapon State Park has always operated in the black, Ambrose said.
He said the park has 33 full-time employees, and about 120 part-time workers are hired for the park’s busy spring, summer and fall seasons. He said there are no projections yet on how many new jobs will come from the improvements.
The park plays host to about 250,000 visitors a year, Ambrose has said.
Built by the Civilian Conservation Corps and opened in 1937, the park is celebrating its 75th anniversary this year, Dugan said.
It is spread out over more than 6,000 acres, boasts 27 miles of hiking trails, 31 year-round cabins, a 12-room inn, a six-acre lake, picnic areas and a riding stable.