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Park visitation sets record

Whether they were camping, fishing, bike riding or simply walking through the trails, guests showed they wanted to spend plenty of time this year at Virginia State Parks by once again setting a new attendance record. 

The 2013 record for attendance at Virginia State Parks was set with a total of 8,871,822 visitors, 6 percent higher than 2012’s record attendance of 8,366,179.

In Halifax County, visitors to Staunton River State Park and Staunton River Battlefield helped contribute to this record high number. 

Staunton River State Park had a total attendance of 122,889 in 2013 with 23,359 being overnight guests and 99,530 being day-use visitors. 

While Staunton River Battlefield had zero over-night attendance, it did experience 29,976 day-use guests throughout the year. 

Surrounding parks such as Occoneechee in Mecklenburg County boasted a total attendance of 189,672, in Prince Edward County Twin Lakes had 106,900 in total attendance, and the High Bridge Trail in Farmville had 194,251 visitors. 

Acting Park Manager Adam Layman said, “I just felt this was a tremendous achievement for us, and it shows that we are offering our guests quality services and great facilities, something really to be proud of.” 

Staunton River State Park opened up its newest facility on March 1, an equestrian camp that Layman said has been very popular and contributed to those record-high numbers. 

The facility includes 10 pull-through sites and three back-in sites. These sites include 50-amp electrical service, water hook-up, a picnic table, charcoal grill and an in-ground fire pit.

Layman also said the park’s astronomy party held twice a year, in March and in October, has really “taken off and grown.” 

While Layman said other seasons are continuing to grow, the summer season is truly their busiest. 

“With the kids out of school and families on vacation, the summer is always our busiest season especially since here at Staunton River we have the pool,” said Layman. 

However, the cabins at Staunton River State Park are open year-round, and according to Layman they get a lot of use around the holiday season. 

The 36 award-winning Virginia State Parks are managed by the Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation.

 “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 7,779,790 up 7 percent from 7,264,264 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 of $198 million in 2012.

The economic impact of Staunton River State Park was $3,344,405 and for Staunton River Battlefield it was $479,616.  

 “In general, I feel the record could be contributed to having such wonderful places, top-notch customer service and just beautiful parks. The customers see what they get and keep wanting to come back,” Layman concluded.