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State parks visitation hit record high in 2013

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Attendance at the New River Trail State Park fell by nearly 100,000, most likely due to unseasonable rain during peak season last year.

By Staff Reports

RICHMOND – Virginia State Parks once again set a new attendance record with 8.87 million visitors in 2013, 6 percent higher than 2012’s record attendance of 8.37 million.
The 36 award-winning Virginia State Parks are managed by the Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation.

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“In many ways outdoor recreation is weather-driven, and last year we saw the weather impact attendance,” said DCR State Parks Director Joe Elton. “Unseasonable rain in June and July kept people away from state parks, but then mild weather in the fall allowed people the opportunity to enjoy the outdoors and everything state parks have to offer, from an afternoon hike to overnight stays in our cabins, lodges and campsites.”
Day use attendance in 2013 also reached a record level, increasing to 7.78 million — up 7 percent from 7.26 million in 2012.
“Millions of Virginians use state parks for daily exercise and, like millions of visitors from many other states, they enjoy and experience state parks because they appreciate the beauty of the outdoors and recognize the affordability of parks,” Elton said.
While state parks are a convenient stop for nearby neighbors or a reasonable alternative for vacationing families and couples during difficult financial times, statewide the parks remain an economic force that affects local communities.
Virginia State Parks directly and indirectly had an economic impact of $206 million in 2013, a 4 percent increase over the previous record $198 million in 2012.
Though visitation at the state parks in general rose, attendance at the New River Trail State Park fell by nearly 100,000, according to the Virginia State Park figures for 2013.
The 57-mile trail — with major termini at Galax and Fries and sections in Carroll, Grayson, Wythe and Pulaski — attracted 7,534 overnight users and 940,931 day users for a total of 948,465.
Records show that New River Trail attendance in 2012 topped one million users, at 1,047,792.
State officials estimated the trail’s economic impact at $15.6 million. In 2012, the New River Trail had an impact of more than $17.2 million on the region.
Still, the trail ranked third in use and in economic impact among state parks.
Coastal First Landing State Parks, so named because the early English colonists moored their ships there, continued to bring in the most visitors at 1.58 million and boasted a $33 million economic impact.
Pocahontas, located outside of Richmond in Chesterfield, pulled in 1.06 million users in 2013, making an economic impact of more than $15.6 million, according to parks officials.
For visitation at Grayson Highlands State Park, officials put the overnight use at 36,209 and day users at 105,823, for a total economic impact of more than $4.4 million.
Virginia’s newest park, Powhatan, attracted 30,441 in 2013.
“Our state parks are popular because they promote a healthy lifestyle and healthy environment, and they stimulate outdoor recreation and tourism spending important to the health of our economy.” Elton said. “State parks help local economies generate more than $12 for every $1 of general fund money allocated to state parks in the state budget.”

For more information about state park activities and amenities, or to make cabin or camping reservations, call the Virginia State Parks Reservation Center at 1-800-933-7275 or visit www.virginiastateparks.gov.