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BASE CAMP “Reviews of campgrounds and camping”

10 Questions of DNR Campground Information Officers

April 23, 2010
By Robert Loewendick
The 2009 camping season was a busy one and the 2010 season is forecasted to be a repeat if not better. Affordable recreation continues to be the focus of families and individuals when scheduling days of recreation on their calendars. State park campgrounds hosted thousands of the avid state park campers and welcomed those staying and playing in their parks for the first time or the first time in years. State park campgrounds do offer a great deal of recreation for the reasonable fee charged. So how are the state park campgrounds holding up under the stress of popularity? I asked each state’s (Ohio, Pennsylvania, West Virginia) park campground information officers 10 questions with that question in mind and also, what can campers look forward to this season? Here is what they had to say.

1.) Is the park system’s campgrounds expected to see a high number of occupancy this upcoming season?

Ohio - We are getting ready for lots of visitors, and we anticipate having a great summer like we did last year (camping was up 9%). Of course, camping is very weather dependent, so we are hoping for comfortable temperatures and not too much rain.

Pennsylvania – Yes. At least as strong as last summer. State parks always have been a strong draw across the state.

West Virginia – West Virginia state park campgrounds are extremely popular and well used. We expect our campgrounds to be very busy this season although we will certainly have availability for folks who want to visit and enjoy a great camping experience. Right now our advanced camping reservations are at typical levels. 

2.) Are the campgrounds prepared to handle a busy season?

Ohio - The parks are gearing up and starting their seasonal hiring. Several parks are having clean-up events around Earth Day, so volunteers can pitch in and help get the parks looking nice for visitors. Some improvements to our reservation Website should make it a little easier for campers to get advance reservations for the summer vacations and weekend getaways.  

Pennsylvania – For this fiscal year that we are currently in, which will be over at the end of June, we were able to use some money from the our state's Oil and Gas Lease Fund to keep all of our state parks open, despite a $9 million cut in the budget for the Bureau of State Parks. We have had to implement some service reductions at all of our state parks as a result of shortening the number of months that our seasonal staff work to save money, and tightening our belts in other ways. The things that were done vary park by park, but generally we took steps such as shortening camping and swimming seasons, closing selected restrooms and other facilities, and extending schedules for routine maintenance. We made decisions about service reductions very carefully to continue to provide a quality visitor experience at our parks. For almost every service reduction, there is a nearby alternative available to the visitor.

West Virginia – Yes. We will be at customary staffing and facilities are in order.  

3.) Is there anything new in the campgrounds, or supporting amenities which campers would be happy to be informed about?

Ohio - One thing frequent campers will definitely be excited about is the new Ohio State Parks Rewards Card. Campers and folks who stay in getaway rentals at any of our state parks (as well as the cottages at Buck Creek, Cowan Lake, Dillon, Hocking Hills, Lake Hope, Mohican, Pike Lake, Pymatuning) can earn points for each dollar spent on the camping, getaway rental, or cottage fee. When they earn enough points, they can redeem them for a free overnight stay. Folks who sign up for the rewards card by June 30 can earn credit for their camping trips in 2009 made under their customer number on the Ohio State Parks camping reservation system.  

Pennsylvania – Yes, definitely. The first-ever Nature Inn is taking shape on the grounds of Bald Eagle State Park, Centre County. First lodge-like structure, overlooking a lake, it should be a major hit with a variety of park visitors — especially seniors. Also an elk viewing and visitor's center is taking shape in the wilds of Elk County. DCNR is a key player in the construction of the building, which focuses on our state's resident wild elk population and the surrounding Wilds.

West Virginia – A new addition to the West Virginia state park system this year is a full service campground at Little Beaver State Park which should be completed by late 2010, early 2011. Also, at Chief Logan State Park we will have completed within a few weeks, a 46,000 square-foot indoor recreation center with pool, indoor tennis/game courts, fitness facility, and an indoor walking track. It is on the far side of the park from the campground and requires an exit from the park and about a 10 to 12-minute drive to the Rec Center.  Daily admission fees remain to be set but should be very reasonable.

4.) Any new facilities awaiting campers this season?

Ohio - There is a new campers’ beach at West Branch State Park’s campground. There is a new fish cleaning station at Pymatuning’s campground for angling campers (or camping anglers). There is a new shelter house at Burr Oak’s horseman’s camp, and there are 10 more sites with electric hookups at Hueston Woods’ horseman’s camp. A new disc golf course is in the works at Delaware’s campground, and we have some new disc golf courses completed in other park areas at Alum Creek, Dillon, John Bryan, Punderson, and Van Buren state parks. We have a couple of new getaway rentals: a yurt at Mosquito Lake, and a tepee at Portage Lakes. There is a new shelter for special events at Deer Creek’s campground, along with a new amphitheater stage. Jackson Lake also has a new amphitheater for campers’ programs. There are new playgrounds at Caesar Creek’s campground and at Harrison Lake; new shuffleboard courts at Delaware; and a new welcome center at Rocky Fork’s campground. There is a new two-mile bike path connecting park areas at Geneva.   

Pennsylvania – Yes, campers have consistently told us: get rid of the pit latrines; give us modern wash points. They'll like the changes. Some of our state parks, like Poe Valley in Centre County, have reopened after recent, major renovations.

West Virginia – See answer to previous question. Also note that the Tomlinson Run swimming pool, which was closed for renovation half of last summer, will be open all summer this year. Likewise the pool at Kanawha State Forest, which had been closed for a few years, was re-opened by park staff last year and its operation will continue this season.

5.) Will there be naturalist programs available?

Ohio - Yes, there will continue to be naturalist programs in most state park campgrounds, primarily on the weekends during the summer season. We also have a very busy schedule of special events planned for the spring, summer and fall, which will be listed on our Website ( and are published in our magazine, Ohio State Parks.

Pennsylvania – Definitely! Pennsylvania’s 117-state park system competed with the best systems in the country, and was awarded the top honor as the 2009 National Gold Medal Award for Excellence in Park and Recreation Management by the American Academy for Park and Recreation Administration in partnership with the National Recreation and Park Association. This prestigious award honors the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources for its skill in planning for and managing the diverse state park system, and also for its innovative approaches that have drawn people into state parks in new ways and connected them to nature through outdoor recreation. Environmental education, and those dedicated men and women who provide it were a bulwark of that award.

West Virginia – Yes, at most major vacation parks. However, there will be reduced activities at some areas this year due to a cutback in the number of seasonal naturalists being hired. This was a necessary budgetary control measure.   

6.) Why should your state park campgrounds be considered as a preferred place to stay when families and/or individuals are planning this year’s vacation plans?

Ohio - Our State Parks are outstanding vacation destinations. They are affordable; close enough to home, yet feel like a real getaway; offer lots of things for everyone in the family to do; and make a great home base to explore other interesting local sights and attractions. There are also programs and events offered throughout the summer to make a week-long or weekend stay even more fun.

Pennsylvania – For the reasons explained in previous questions, plus the "think local" movement is seeing folks staying closer to home; or striking out, but not too far, to see a natural wonder they've been putting off seeing.

West Virginia – West Virginia state park campgrounds offer a diverse camping experience providing both primitive camping and sites complete with modern conveniences. Twenty-nine of our park/forest areas offer camping. These facilities offer a multitude of services and amenities truly offering something for the entire family.

7.) Most readers of the camping column in Ohio Valley Outdoors magazine are also avid anglers and hunters. Are the park’s campgrounds welcoming these groups? And how so?

Ohio - Anglers and hunters are always welcome. Our state park lakes offer some of the state’s best fishing and hunting, and many are located near state wildlife areas and state forests. A number of state parks sponsor fishing derbies, and our state park lakes host hundreds of fishing tournaments held by outside groups. Quite a few of our campgrounds have launch ramps in the campground, along with docks or tie-ups for campers. The camping reservation system makes it easy to get a campsite in advance, and to choose the site you want and camp near friends and relatives.

Pennsylvania – As an avid hunter and angler, I know some of the best fishing areas in the state are trout streams running through state parks or state forests, and lakes serving as focal points for state parks. We have excellent trout and warm water species waters. Check out some of the parks' activities descriptions. Also, many of the lake-based parks rent boats.

On hunting, almost 380,000 acres of state park land and more than 80 percent is open to hunters. We welcome waterfowlers, deer hunters and everyone else, but not groundhog hunters (because of the danger sometimes involved). Black, bear, turkey, pheasant, ruffed grouse, and many other species are fair game to hunters and trappers on state parkland. 

West Virginia – Hunters and fishermen are most welcome in our park and forest campgrounds. Hunting is not permitted in state parks, however and we do require all weapons to be cased on premises. Many of our parks are located near public hunting areas. We offer an upland game hunting package at Pipestem State Park. The park system operates facilities on eight state forests and five wildlife management areas. Hunting is permitted on these areas. A variety of fishing opportunities exist on and nearby West Virginia state parks and forests. A few of our parks are currently offering special fishing packages. For more details visit

8.) What amenities (archery ranges, etc.) exist for hunters and/or anglers in the parks?

Ohio - We have a few new archery ranges at Alum Creek, Dillon, Geneva and Sycamore, bringing the total number to 13 archery ranges at the following parks: Alum Creek, Barkcamp, Beaver Creek, Caesar Creek, Dillon, Geneva, Hocking Hills, Hueston Woods, Paint Creek, Punderson, Salt Fork, Shawnee, and Sycamore.

Pennsylvania – Target shooting is discouraged; there are but one or two ranges on state park land. Same applies to archery. The Pa. Game Commission, independently of us, oversees a vast system of state game lands where target shooting is permitted on approved ranges. Target shooting in our state forests is not permitted - unless properly constructed and approved backstops are utilized.    

West Virginia – New to the park system in the last few years is the addition of a wobble trap shotgun shooting range at Cacapon State Park. Please see this link for details (Cacapon does not offer camping) Archery ranges are available at Pipestem State Park and Kanawha State Forest. Firearm ranges are offered at four of our areas including a new range that will be opened at Kumbrabow State forest this year.

9.) How are the campgrounds (and parks) holding up during these times of funding cuts and thin budgets?

Ohio - Our park staff and volunteers are working hard to keep things in good working order, and even add new amenities, where possible, despite the thin budgets. Park visitors can help by complying with the camping rules, observing quiet hours, keeping an eye on the kids while at the beach, staying on designated trails, and being courteous to other park visitors. Park visitors may also want to consider becoming park volunteers, joining their local park friends groups, and donating to the Ohio State Parks legacy foundation to help provide new facilities for future park visitors.   

Pennsylvania – See answer to number 10.

West Virginia – West Virginia state parks has been fortunate to have escaped most of the budgetary woes that have affected state park systems all across the country. Visitors should see little change in 2010 except a cut back at outdoor swimming pools from a seven to five-day of operation per week at all parks with campgrounds except for Beech Fork. Closed days will likely be Tuesdays and Thursdays.  

10.) What is exciting about the parks (and campgrounds) this up coming season? 

Ohio - In addition to everything above, we are developing more dog friendly facilities – there are now dog parks at Alum Creek, Grand Lake St. Marys, Mosquito Lake, Portage Lakes and Salt Fork as well as dog swim areas at A.W. Marion, Deer Creek, Harrison Lake, Hueston Woods and Lake Alma. We are working on more WiFi hotspots, more geocaching opportunities, expanded and improved trails, and more special events.

Pennsylvania – Think both 9 and 10 already have been answered.

West Virginia - We have many special promotions and packages upcoming for this season. Please see our web site for details. Check out our summer program series at

Article Photos

How are the state park campgrounds holding up under the stress of their recent popularity?

Fact Box

"Our state parks (Ohio) are outstanding vacation destinations. They are affordable; close enough to home, yet feel like a real getaway and offer lots of things for everyone in the family to do."

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