Making crown jewels sparkle

West Virginia’s 35 state parks have been referred to as the state’s crown jewels. Along with seven state forests, the parks are havens of natural beauty and recreational opportunities. They attract both Mountain State residents and out-of-state visitors.

But the jewels have become a bit blemished during the past several years. Tight state budgets have resulted in postponed maintenance. Lack of funds has made updating older facilities only a dream.

Last week, it was announced as much as $80 million in bonds will be sold to provide for repairs, maintenance and improvements to state parks and forests, along with two rail-trails. Bond repayment will be covered with state lottery revenue.

Gov. Jim Justice said the initiative will mean “major modernization” of parks, forests and rail-trails during the next three years. Every one of them is slated for improvements, at a cost of as much as $60 million. That would leave $20 million for repairs and maintenance.

Everyone likes improvements to popular places such as state parks and forests. Making thoughtful upgrades — that is, with attention to what visitors to the parks want at a recreation site — could expand the state’s tourism industry. That certainly would be worthwhile.

At the same time, repairs and maintenance should not be shortchanged. What already exists at the parks, forests and trails needs to be kept in good condition.

Another consideration during the project is how much to spend where. Obviously, West Virginians living near individual parks, forests and trails will want money spent there. Clearly, some funds should be earmarked for each and every facility.

But certain areas, those with the most potential to attract new visitors to West Virginia, should get priority. So should revenue-producing recreation facilities.

A major maintenance and improvement project at the state’s parks, forests and trails is long overdue. Spent wisely, the new money could make those crown jewels sparkle more brightly than ever.

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