Despite last year being was one of the wettest in Virginia history, some places were left high and dry.
One of those was York River State Park, where the attendance was down 17 percent in 2018 from the previous year.
Ann Zahn, the Tidewater District manager for the Virginia State Parks Visitor Service, said rain was the major factor.
“That’s the only one at this point that we can pinpoint,” said Zahn, whose oversight covers the Tidewater parks up to Belle Isle State Park in Lancaster. “Parks are very weather-dependent, obviously, and York River being a day-use park, is much more weather-dependent than some of the parks that have overnight (accommodations).”
Total attendance at the park was 153,057 in 2018, compared to 184,060 in 2017. According to the National Weather Service, 2018 was the wettest year on record in the state in 15 years, with two major hurricanes – Florence and Michael – as big factors.
“We were closed for a couple of days, specifically on this coast because of those preparing and then cleanup for those (hurricanes),” Zahn said.
Virginia Tech’s Pamplin’s College of Business compiles an economic impact report for Virginia State Parks, and numbers in that also were down for the 2,531-acre park in the northeast part of Williamsburg. The park’s economic impact was $3.8 million in 2017, but $3.5 million last year. For total visitor spending, it went from $3.4 million two years ago to $3.2 million in 2018.
Of the 36 parks listed in the 2017 report, fewer than 10 reported increases the following year.
“Most of those are less weather-dependent because they have overnight facilities,” Zahn said of the sites that had increases last year. “Weather isn’t as heavy on those sites that have cabins. Most people that come for a week’s stay, if it’s raining, they’re inside.”
So far in 2019, the numbers look good.
“We’re about to enter into our busiest part of the year,” Zahn said. “The numbers are pretty much even with last year, so it doesn’t look like we’re losing anything. … We’ll just hope for no hurricanes this year.”
Zahn said from about Mother’s Day weekend until the middle of July is the busiest time, highlighted by Memorial Day weekend and the Fourth of July. The park has 30 miles of hiking, biking and equestrian trails, but Zahn said the water-based activities and programs (canoe and kayak trips) are the most popular.
“People like the ability to get onto the water itself, whether that’s in a boat or just walking along the shoreline looking for interesting shells and fossils,” she said.
An area where the Virginia State Parks system is doing well is in generating money. In 2018, for every $1 of tax revenue that went to parks, $14.08 of new money was generated, which was up from $13.08 the previous year. And $1.26 of state and local tax was generated for every $1 of tax money spent last year, up from $1.17 in 2017.
“Overall, our numbers are good,” Zahn said of the entire state system. “If you start looking at individual parks, you do see some differences.”