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Fairy Stone attendance declined in 2013

Monday, January 20, 2014

By MICKEY POWELL - Bulletin Staff Writer

A roughly 5 percent decline in visits at Fairy Stone State Park last year most likely was due to rainy weather, according to state officials.

Outdoors enthusiasts made 91,993 visits to the park on the Patrick-Henry County line last year. That was down from 96,692 visits in 2012, Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation (DCR) statistics show.

The number of overnight visits increased from 32,870 to 33,836, but the number of day visits dropped from 63,822 to 58,157, figures show.

“June and July were very rainy,” Park Manager John Grooms said, noting those months are when day visits usually are at the highest levels.

Visitation at state parks is “very weather-dependent,” added Gary Waugh, the DCR’s public relations manager.

When rain is forecast, people sometimes cancel their overnight reservations “if they know it’s going to be a washout,” Waugh said. But if rain is expected to be intermittent or not too heavy, many people still come, he said.

Economic factors may have been a slight factor in the drop in visitation, park officials said, but it is hard for them to say for sure.

When money is low, Waugh said, some people say they “stay at home,” and that would hurt visitation. Yet others say they just take trips closer to home, which could increase visits among area residents, he said.

Fairy Stone’s estimated economic impact last year was $3,468,212. That is a slight decrease from $3,486,402 in 2012.

Economic impact figures are factored based on fees charged to visitors at the park as well as money they spend in nearby communities on things such as gas and food, officials have said.

Grooms and Waugh expect the park will continue to be a popular tourist attraction.

Fairy Stone, named after Staurolite minerals found there, was developed in the 1930s by the Civilian Conservation Corps. Its amenities include a lake, cabins, a campground, picnic shelters and hiking trails.

Virginia has 36 state parks. Fairy Stone is “one of our original six,” Waugh noted.

Having been developed about 80 years ago, the old-style architecture of Fairy Stone’s structures reflects “a level of craftsmanship ... you just don’t see” in newer state parks, and that entices many people, he said.

Also, the lake is scenic, as are nearby rolling hills, Waugh said. Yet the topography is not so steep that it keeps park visitors from enjoying the surroundings, he said.

Overall, “it’s quiet, it’s peaceful,” which gives the park “a family feel,” he added.

Fairy Stone plans to remodel its campground bath house this fall to make it easier for people to use, Grooms said.

“We’re basically going to gut the facility and put in all new fixtures,” he said.

The bath house currently has four showers — two each for men and women. Two new showers will be installed, bringing the total to six, and each stall will be accessible from outside the building and to disabled people, Grooms said.

Plans are for the campground to close Oct. 1 for the remodeling and reopen the next spring. When it reopens, “we hope it (the upgraded bath house) will outweigh the inconvenience” of the construction on visitors, Grooms said.

Altogether, there were a record 8,871,822 visits to Virginia state parks in 2013, including 1,092,032 overnight visits and 7,779,790 daytime visits, DCR figures show. Total visitation was up from 8,366,179 in 2012.

The parks had a total economic impact of about $206 million on the state last year, up from $198 million the previous year, statistics show.

“State parks help local economies generate more than $12 for every $1 of general fund money allocated to state parks in the state budget,” Joe Elton, DCR’s director of state parks, said in a news release.

“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.


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