CAMP CREEK — People curious about camping and wondering about giving it a try did exact that – and in record numbers – at West Virginia’s state parks when a pandemic fueled a desire for wide outdoors and fresh air.
Camp Creek State Park & Forest in Mercer County saw record numbers of campers in 2020. Numbers of visitors stayed strong even during the winter, and there were campers when New Year’s Eve arrived, Superintendent Monty Ball recalled.
“It seems like it’s really picked up,” Ball said, adding that Gov. Jim Justice’s push to promote West Virginia’s outdoor venues as a relief from the pandemic’s restrictions helped, calling the venues places “to be healthy and get a breath of fresh air and stay safe all at the same time.”
Ball did not have attendance figures on hand, but campers kept arriving when the weather turned cold. The state park is open all year.
“We’ve had campers all winter each month. December, January and February,” he said. “And a record number of winter campers.”
After setting up camp, visitors explore the park’s 35 miles of hiking and horse trails. Last year, many visitors converged on the park for camping, hiking, riding and visiting a large field of sunflowers. Ball said there are plans to plant the sunflower field against last year. Whether guests will hike to the field and/or be offered transport to it will depend on the situation at that time.
“We’re going to do that again this year,” he stated. “I think they usually bloom the first week to the middle of August.”
Camping provides recreation in a safe environment, especially with social distancing that had been required during the pandemic, Ball said. Camp Creek State Park was seeing increasing numbers of visitors for several years, but the pandemic has fueled that growth.
“It really went wild,” he said. “People feel more safe, more relaxed in their own accommodations. We’ve been working really hard to maintain the bath house facilities for safety and sanitation at the parks to help our guests feel safer. We encourage folks in our area to come out and support your local parks.”
The nearby Brush Creek Falls RV Resort is also seeing more guests, according to Office Manager Jessica French. More people started arriving last May.
“And we noticed in February that more people were booking for the Memorial Day Weekend than they ever had,” she recalled. Some of the guests were local while others came in from out of state. The campground’s four efficiency cabins have been staying booked, too.
The pandemic changed the ways people entertained themselves when restrictions and fear of infection kept them from visiting venues where they had to mingle in crowds.
“Actually, people started looking for outdoor things to do during the pandemic,” said Jamie Null, executive director of the Mercer County Convention & Visitors Bureau. “I think camping is always something that’s on people’s bucket lists; and sometimes on our bucket lists, things get pushed to the bottom. People have time off and the opportunity to go camping more than they did in previous years.”
Null said that on the bureau’s website analytics, camping, staying in cabins, and “anything to do with the outdoors, the numbers have jumped much higher than previously.”
The hope is that the public will not give up outdoor recreation when the pandemic subsides.
“I hope we’ve all learned something from this pandemic about what we have available in our back yard,” Null said. “People discovered new hobbies and I hope we hold on to these positive things, outdoor hobbies and utilizing state parks more.”
“We shouldn’t be quick to give up the things we learned during the pandemic and enjoying the outdoors more is one of them,” she said. “We’ve seen increased visitation all across the board, from Pinnacle Rock to Brush Creek Falls to Pipestem. Really, it’s all of them all across the board.”
Contact Greg Jordan at gjordan@bdtonline. com