CHARLESTON, W.Va. — State Tourism Secretary Chelsea Ruby says her department will be working with community leaders in Fayette County to establish better access points to the newly designated New River Gorge National Park & Preserve.

Secretary Chelsea Ruby

Ruby told members of the Senate Finance Committee during her budget presentation this week that’s just one area she’s focused on to increase tourism dollars this year. She said the park doesn’t have the same layout as other national parks.

“If you think about a park like Yellowstone, you drive into that park and there’s an entrance and exit. You know what to do,” Ruby said. “If you think about our park, it spans three counties and there’s 101 ways to get in, so it’s not as easy for the visitor to know exactly where to go or what to do.”

The City of Fayetteville is working with a number of gateway communities like Beckley and Oak Hill to promote tourism to the area, but Ruby said the state will also work with cities to improve access.

“We’re going to be working with those communities to try to figure out how can we better lead people into the park and around the park,” she said.

In a few weeks, the Tourism Department will be releasing new vacation guides that Ruby said will highlight the New River Gorge to help draw visitors to the park this summer.

Ruby told senators tourism overall could soon outpace 2019 numbers.

“Nationally, U.S. travel predicts it will be 2025 before we reach pre-pandemic levels. I believe that in 2021 or in 2022 we will be nearing that pre-pandemic level,” she said.

West Virginia has a lot to benefit from being a state that offers a lot of outdoor activities, Ruby said.

“If you have a lot of outdoor assets, a lot of public lands, you’re growing really quickly,” she said. “If you’re a big city destination, you’re starting to pivot and talk about wide open spaces.”

Ruby said hotel and motel tax revenue has been up in the last two months.

Most out-of-state visitors are coming from Pittsburgh, Pa. Ruby said Washington, D.C. isn’t far behind.

The big challenge tourism leaders face now involves air travel. Ruby said they’re looking at consultants who can help them look at air service into the state both nationally and internationally.

“We’ve got to make it easier for folks to get here,” she said. “Right now, we are 95 percent a drive state. Most of our visitors who are coming are coming by car or road trip. It’s a great thing, but we want to build on that.”


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