RICHMOND — Virginia State Parks continues the trend of recent years with a new attendance record in 2012 of 8,366,179 visitors, a whopping increase of 7 percent over 2011 and 4 percent over the previous record of 8,065,558 set in 2010.
Virginia’s 35 state parks are managed by the Virginia Department of Recreation.
“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.”
First Landing State Park in Virginia Beach is the most visited state park with more than 1.5 million visitors. The DCR said Virginia State Parks directly and indirectly had an economic impact last year of $198 million, a 6 percent increase over the previous record in 2011.
“More than 2,000 jobs are created as a direct result of Virginia State Parks,” Johnson said. “Towns and communities across Virginia directly feel the impact of state parks.”
Attendance more than doubled last year at High Bridge Trail State Park, a linear park formed around a decommissioned railroad bed that passes through the town of Farmville and Cumberland, Prince Edward, Nottoway and Appomattox counties. Visitation increased from 86,110 in 2011 to 188,467 last year.
“Another linear park, New River Trail in Southwest Virginia, passes through Carroll, Grayson, Pulaski and Wythe counties, the city of Galax as well as the towns of Pulaski and Fries,” Johnson said. “The park 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.”
The DCR provided 2012 economic and attendance data for other state parks (www.virginiastateparks.gov) located in Southwest Virginia. Natural Tunnel State Park in Scott County had 17,201 overnight visitors last year, and 232,328 day use visitors for a total 249,529 visitors and an economic impact of just over $5 million.
Breaks Interstate State Park in Dickenson County had 105,319 overnight visitors and 218,146 day use visitors for a total 323,465 visitors last year with an economic impact of nearly $11.4 million. The New River Trail had a total of 1,047,792 visitors last year with an estimated economic impact of well over $17.2 million.
The Southwest Virginia Museum Historical State Park in Big Stone Gap had 78,304 visitors last year and an estimated economic impact of nearly $1.3 million. The Wilderness Road State Park in Lee County had 174,221 visitors last year and an economic impact of nearly $2.8 million.
Overnight attendance in state parks also set a record last year with over 1.1 million visitors, a 4 percent increase over 2011, the previous record year.
DCR State Parks Director Joe Elton said he was “extremely proud of the exceptional work our staff does each year in hosting record numbers of visitors and overnight guests.”
He said last year’s record was set in spite of the derecho storm (a widespread, long-lived, straight-line windstorm associated with a fast-moving band of severe thunderstorms) that hammered widespread areas of Virginia, including 12 state parks.
“Despite the damage coming during one of our busiest weeks of the year, during our busiest year ever, our staff worked tirelessly to get the parks back open and minimize the impact on our guests,” Elton said.