Winter Weather Jeopardizes Spring Family Camping in Virginia

Next week marks the traditional launch of the spring camping season for many across the country, but Nancy Heltman, with Virginia State Parks, is reporting that several of their parks are still snowed-in or flooded from recent rains.

Douthat State Park

Douthat State Park (photo by pcopros on Flickr)

While the park staff have done what they can to plow the roads in White Oak Campground, the turning radius will not accommodate large RVs. Top that off with the fact that the sites are snow covered, and there is just no way to accommodate campers.

The state is tentatively targeting an April 1 opening for Douthat State Park, dependant on how well the park drains as the snow melts. At First Landing State Park, only one of the campground loops will open on March 1, with the opening of other loops dependant on how quickly the floodwaters subside and how much repair the campsites on those loops will require.

13 thoughts on “Winter Weather Jeopardizes Spring Family Camping in Virginia

  1. It’s been an incredibly stormy winter for the east coast and there’s yet another blizzard bearing down. The last forecast I heard was for at least a foot of snow. I guess the campgrounds in Virginia are just going to have to wait a little longer to be presentable!

    • Wow, more snow on the way? It’s a crazy winter – my folks in AZ said they are getting more rain than anyone there can remember.

  2. Don’t worry – we have a few parks with no snow on the ground (unless that changes this weekend)! I just spent a week at Chippokes Plantation State Park and that campground is all ready for some use starting March 1!

  3. Fortunately we’ve had a mild winter here in Oregon. Guess I won’t be camping soon in Virginia. Dang…and I just had the station wagon all full too… ;)

  4. You would be surprised about all of the work, and the complexity of that work, that goes into running a state park. There are OSHA requirements which mean extensive site safety trained professionals (even the volunteer trail crew needs full time trained staff to supervise them), first aid training, water and waste water treatment plant operation, vehicle and equipment maintenance, procurement requirements, financial operations and requirements. A park operation is a small city. Most of our parks only have a handful of full time staff supplemented by non-benefited, non-salaried staff.

    Being one of the most meagerly supported state park systems in the country we rely heavily on staff who put in more than their 40 hours a week, dedicated volunteers, and staff who have learned to nurse equipment well past its replacement point. We do earn 40% of what it costs for the full operation of the parks. If you noticed, closing 5 parks was only going to save $500,000 a year.

    In a way your original point is accurate. The parks do fund themselves. They return more than 5 times what the state contributes back in the way of economic impact to localities and the state. You can’t say that about most government operations. This year the parks will cost the taxpayers of Virginia less than $16 million but will return more than $70 million in economic impact. This article from the Richmond Times Dispatch says its best: http://bit.ly/6f4tjr

    One other way to make the parks more self-sufficient would be to increase fees. However, we have been pretty aggressive with fees over the years to offset the frugal funding we receive and we do not want to price a park visit or overnight stay out of the range of an average family.

    And an update on the closing news from last week is that both the House of Delegates and Senate published their versions of the state budget this past Sunday and neither reduced funding or closed parks.

    • Glad you could provide some input, Nancy! It really frosts me when the politicians go after the parks (I think our governor was the first) because, like you point out, the amount of money “saved” from closing a park is minuscule. My position is that any money saved on paper is nothing compared to the loss of benefit to the public, along with the economic impact of the closing itself.

    • Scott – I can’t believe that Virginia put False Cape on the block. They do have some great parks and hopefully this will all blow-over.

  5. It’s been a cold winter even here in Florida. Although we haven’t had snow, it’s still been a lot of wet cold weather. This last weekend was the first one, in awhile, with some nicer weather. Definitely time to plan the first camping trip of the season.

  6. The starte of Virginia is apparantly $2.2 billion in the hole (http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2010/02/16/AR2010021605819.html) and has tentative plans to close 5 state parks. I always assumed, on the whole, that park campgrounds pretty much funded themselves. Mind you a campground is only part of a state park, but still, why in the world does it cost so much to run a state park? Can’t you get a nonprofit group to just clear trails? Keep a few rangers on hand to control crime/keep people safe. I just have a hard time seeing why parks cost so much to keep open.

    Oh, and the snow in my part of Virginia just melted enough to show the lawn again. Time to get outside!!

    • By and large, I think they do fund themselves, Neal. I believe the states (CA, AZ, ID, WA, VA, NY – probably others) have grown their labor costs to unsustainable levels, though, and are now forced to make cuts wherever they can find them. The parks are an easy target, since they do not have big public employee unions supporting them.

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