$80 million investment in state parks will boost tourism’s importance in new economy

Gov. Jim Justice might be something of a tourist attraction himself.

After all, he owns an iconic resort, there’s his larger-than-life stature and personality and who can forget his anything but gubernatorial aura.

And he’s also keenly aware of our state’s potential to get a lot greener by promoting the tourism industry.

That’s greener in the sense of enriching the state and the scores of communities and local businesses that surround our state’s parks and forests.

About 10 years ago it began to dawn on many in our state that diversifying our economy was imperative as coal began its decline.

Most realized after reflecting on where we lived for a minute that a key part of any new state economy had to be tourism. Though other administrations in Charleston acknowledged that, Justice seized on it immediately after taking office.

In 2017 he proposed raising taxes on beer and liquor to generate an additional $2.8 million for promoting tourism. Facing major revenue shortfalls and anti-tax sentiment that proposal never gained traction.

Then this year he proposed increasing spending on tourism promotion from $6 million to $20 million. But after approving a 5 percent pay raise to teachers to quell an uprising, that plan fizzled too.

Not to be deterred, Justice then took the lead in advancing Senate Bill 438. That bill authorized selling up to $80 million in excess lottery revenue bonds to pay for an overhaul of our park system.

It’s important to note that bill passed unanimously in both chambers and its sponsors were also a bipartisan mix. Much like our roads, all of us use our parks, and all of us are well aware of the disrepair that plagues them.

This week, the state Economic Development Authority approved the sale of those bonds for repairs, maintenance and improvements to the state’s parks and forests.

The first of these bonds will be sold in October and these upgrades and renovations will get underway in November. This work will be done during the off-season over the next three years.

We rarely find our compass aligned with the governor, or the Legislature for that matter, these days.

However, we applaud this initiative and agree with the critical need for our state to put its best foot forward: The natural beauty in its parks and forests.

Tourism must be a primary component in any transition to a more diversified state economy.

Bringing our parks and forests’ cabins, lodges and other amenities up to 21st century standards will undoubtedly boost revenues — private and public — and create jobs.

Not to mention making these facilities as attractive to tourists as their wild, wonderful setting.

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