CHARLESTON — With the state having its first national park in over a year, the majority of West Virginians support continued funding and improvements to the National Park Service and the National Outdoor Recreation and Conservation System .
According to the results of a survey released Monday by the National Parks Conservation Association, 85% of respondents said national parks help the economy. Across all parties, 84% of Republicans and Independents and 88% of Democrats think national parks help the economy.
“From thundering waterfalls at New River Gorge to breathtaking scenic vistas at Harpers Ferry, our West Virginia national parks are worth fighting for,” said Samantha Nygaard, West Virginia program manager for the National Parks Conservation Association. “This poll clearly shows that West Virginians of all political stripes want their elected officials to do just that.”
Respondents were asked a variety of questions about what they considered to be the best reasons for protecting national parks. When asked if it was about ensuring national parks are safe for recreational use, 41% were very confident and 40% were somewhat confident. When asked if it was about providing great visitor experiences and fixing worn-out facilities, 41% were very confident and 40% were somewhat confident.
West Virginia recently marked one year since the New River Gorge National River was renamed New River Gorge National Park and Preserve, making it the 63rd national park and 20th national reserve.
Originally designated a national river by President Jimmy Carter in 1978, the New River Gorge Park and Preserve Designation Act, signed into law by former President Donald Trump, creates the new 7,021-acre park. The bill also sets aside 65,165 acres for a nature preserve, opens 368 acres for hunting in the Grandview area, and maintains an additional 301 acres in the Lower Gorge for hunting.
The survey results came out the same day Governor Jim Justice and state tourism department officials were in Fayetteville, a mile from the New River Gorge Bridge, announcing that Mountain Shore Properties LLC would take three former schools in the area and would convert them. in boutique hotels, apartments and townhouses. The project is estimated at $15 million, providing additional housing near the New River Gorge National Park and Preserve.
“We did it here…we have the last national park,” Justice said at a press conference announcing the project. “I believe West Virginia has the four most beautiful seasons…we abound in natural resources. We should be proud of that. »
According to data released by the Department of Tourism earlier this year, attendance at the New River Gorge Park and Preserve in 2021 was up 30% from the previous year. According to the National Park Service, the New River Gorge Park and Preserve saw about 1.7 million visits in 2021.
Speaking at the Fayetteville announcement on Monday, Tourism Commissioner Chelsea Ruby said that with the first national park, Yellowstone, chartered in 1872, West Virginia was blessed to finally have its own National Park.
“It doesn’t happen very often, and it’s a big, big deal,” Ruby said. “What I find really cool is that, as you know, this park spans multiple counties. We’re seeing growth in all areas. It’s all over the whole park.
According to the survey results, 31% of respondents said they had visited a national park more than three years ago, 29% said they had visited a park less than a year ago, and 22% said they had visited a park in the last one to three years. .
When listing the biggest obstacles to visiting a national park, 37% cited the COVID-19 pandemic as a barrier, while 29% indicated limited mobility, 25% indicated being too busy or not vacation and 21% said it took too long to get to a park. The COVID-19 issue was a top concern for respondents over 55, while being too busy was the top issue for respondents aged 18-54.
Respondents were asked about other reasons for protecting national parks. Asked about the role of national parks in slowing climate change and protecting animal habitats, 38% were very convinced and 30% somewhat convinced. When asked if additional funds were needed to weatherize buildings and protect historic sites, 37% were very confident and 31% were somewhat confident.
“West Virginians know the value of clean air, clean water and wild, wonderful national parks in our backyards,” Nygaard said. “Visitors to our great mountain state know it too, contributing millions to our booming tourism economy, supporting many local businesses. This new data shows that despite political differences, our parks and outdoor spaces have the power to bring us together.
A large majority of respondents said they would have a favorable opinion of a US Senator or member of the House of Representatives who supports the protection and enhancement of national parks, with 51% extremely favorable, 29% very favorable and 17% somewhat favourable. Among Republicans, these categories combined totaled 98% and the Democratic total was 99%, while the total among independents was 96%.
The senses. Americans Joe Manchin, DW.Va., and Shelley Moore Capito, RW.Va., introduced the New River Gorge Park and Preserve Designation Act in 2019. Third District Rep. Carol Miller, RW.Va., introduced a draft of supplementary legislation in the United States House of Representatives with 1st District Rep. David McKinley, RW.Va., and 2nd District Rep. Alex Mooney, RW.Va.
“Chelsea and a lot of other leaders with the governor came to us in Washington…and really said a national park designation would really change the face of this area, so we got to work,” said Capito on Monday at the Fayetteville event. “A lot of people want a national park for a lot of obvious reasons now. It increases your tourism, it increases your development and the attractiveness of your region. We managed to push it to the finish line…it’s a source of great pride for me.
The $1.2 trillion Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, passed last year by Manchin, Capito and McKinley, included $1.7 billion for the National Park Service. The funding includes $350 million to reduce vehicle collisions with wildlife; $1.4 billion for park access improvement projects; and $35 billion for wastewater, stormwater and drinking water infrastructure projects.
President Joe Biden released his proposed $5.8 trillion budget for the next fiscal year, which includes $2.76 billion for the National Park Service’s operating budget, a 2.9% increase from last year, according to National Parks Traveler.
Respondents were asked to rate their support for a hypothetical federal funding bill based loosely on the failed Build Back Better bill that could include $550 billion in new spending, including additional funding for parks nationals. Under this assumption, 75% said they supported the federal bill and 13% said they opposed it. Support was highest among Democrats, at 89%, and New State Residents at 81%. Republican support fell to 67% and Independent support to 63%.
According to Axios last week, Manchin expressed support for reopening the discussion on a new version of Build Back Better. The new version would include $500 billion for climate and $1 trillion in new revenue, with half of the new revenue coming from higher corporate taxes and savings from empowering Medicaid to negotiate lower prescription drug prices. Manchin chairs the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources.
“We are grateful to the members of the West Virginia delegation who repeatedly stood up for our parks in Congress,” Nygaard said. “Now we urge Congress to push for additional federal legislation that will fund our national parks, protect our communities and natural resources from climate change, and give West Virginia good jobs by conserving our outdoor wonders.”
When asked how much respondents thought climate change was affecting their communities, 35% said a little, and 19% said a lot, while 29% said not much and 16% said not. at all. When asked how respondents had noticed climate change, 41% said they had noticed less snowfall and shorter freezing spells, 36% said they had noticed stronger storms, 33% said they had noticed flooding and 30% said they noticed longer periods of hot weather.
The poll was conducted by TargetPoint Consulting, a Republican-leaning polling firm, between Feb. 5 and Feb. 9 of 300 registered voters statewide using online polls. The National Parks Conservation Association is a nonpartisan advocacy group with 1.6 million members and supporters dedicated to the perseverance of national parks.
Steven Allen Adams can be contacted at [email protected]