West Virginia Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin signed on the dotted line Tuesday to secure bonding for a $24 million expansion and renovation of Cacapon State Park, a project that has been on the back burner for 20 years.
“The park has some age on it and it needs a facelift,” Tomblin said in signing the certification for the bonds, which, he said, will be repaid at a “good rate,” referring to his state’s double A-plus bond rating.
“This is another way to create jobs. It will be good for the people of Morgan County, the people who work at the park and for West Virginia,” he said.
Construction will begin after bids are awarded sometime in the first half of 2013. The work will be finished in 2015, said Tom Ambrose, park superintendent.
The park, 10 miles south of Berkeley Springs on U.S. 522, was built by Civilian Conservation Corps workers during the Great Depression. It opened in 1937 with a single camp. Today, there are 31 year-round cabins and a 12-room inn. The existing 48-room main lodge with is 250-capacity conference room and similar-size restaurant opened in 1956.
The park has an 18-hole golf course designed by Robert Trent Jones Sr., 27 miles of hiking trails, a six-acre lake, picnic areas and a riding stable.
Even with all that, Morgan County and Berkeley Springs officials felt that much more was needed to expand and modernize the park to keep up with visitor demand and to increase tourism in the county as well as in the entire the Eastern Panhandle.
Stacy Dugan, president of the Morgan County Commission, convinced officials in Jefferson and Berkeley counties to support the park’s expansion which, she said, would boost tourism in those counties, too.
The park needs additional rooms to accommodate the existing large conference room and other facilities, Dugan said.
“Ever since Coolfont Resort (in Morgan County) and The Woods resort (in Berkeley County) closed, this is the only state park in the Panhandle with lodging,” she said.
Dugan said she and other county officials made numerous treks to Charleston, W.Va., in recent years trying to convince state legislators, then Gov. Joe Manchin and more recently Tomblin to find the money to expand the park.
Tomblin on Wednesday credited state Sen. Herb Snyder, D-16th, for coming up with the plan to sell bonds to finance the project.
Ambrose said $1 million has already been spent on designing the expansion.
The $24 million will pay for, among other things, building a 82-room lodge onto to the existing lodge. It will have indoor and outdoor swimming pools, dining and kitchen facilities, fitness spa and conference rooms.
Improvements will be made to the golf course and the park’s water plant will be upgraded to handle the expansion, Ambrose said.
Ambrose said more than 250,000 visitors come to the park each year.
Members of Cacapon Resort Park Foundation, a citizens’ support group, have raised money for new playground equipment, a pavilion, nature center, basketball court and an entertainment center.