Morgan County citizens have organized weekly gatherings at Cacapon State Park in protest of a plan by the state’s Division of Natural Resources (DNR) to build an RV campground on park grounds.
A group of more than one hundred citizens gathered at the park’s upper lake to discuss their concerns. Three proposals for development have been submitted to the DNR.
The development comes after House Bill 4408 was passed into law during the 2022 West Virginia Legislative session. It allows for contracts to be granted to private companies to build recreational and lodging facilities on state park grounds.
Morgan County resident Bruce Goldstein is one of many in the area concerned about the ecological impacts of such a development.
“We have been using this park a lot,” Goldstein said. “We hike in it regularly. And we’ve used the lakes, and we’ve had friends and family come to stay here and take advantage of this great park.”
Environmental groups like the West Virginia Rivers Coalition and Sierra Club have voiced similar concerns, alongside the Morgan County Commission. They say it could cause traffic and safety issues, overwhelm the park’s sewer plant and cause excessive excavation and clear-cutting of trees.
Protesters say the bid from Blue Water Development, which proposes up to 350 spots for RVs alongside other amenities, would be the most likely to be accepted, as it’s the closest fit to the DNR’s criteria of a private company continuing to maintain the campground after construction.
Another proposal from River and Trail Outfitters suggests the state would maintain it, and a third proposal from Scenic LLC suggests collaborating with the state park on the creation of a site outside park grounds.
“I don’t even think they could pick that proposal, even if they want it,” said fellow resident Steve Hay. “Even if they could, it’s still a short circuiting of a process that really needs to happen.”
Hay, like other protesters, is concerned with bringing public voices and concerns to the selection process.
“That is what our message is, is to cancel this process and begin a new process that gets public input, that respects the ecology of the park and does all the things that are in the public interest,” Hay said.
The DNR canceled a public hearing on park grounds scheduled for Tuesday evening. A lawsuit filed Monday in Morgan County Circuit Court alleged the division did not provide adequate public notice before the scheduled date.
“We perceived that the DNR’s public notice for this coming hearing, which is supposed to be a Class II legal advertisement that runs twice in 20 days before the hearing, was not following the law,” said lawyer Larry Schultz, who was also present at the protests.
A legal notice was posted beforehand, but in Berkeley County-based newspaper The Journal, according to Morgan County newspaper The Morgan Messenger.
The DNR maintains they had provided lawful notice but agreed to cancel the meeting, according to a legal filing with the Morgan County Circuit Court.
“The Defendants maintain that the West Virginia Division of Natural Resources has provided lawful notice, pursuant to §§ 20-5-16 and 59-3-2 of the West Virginia Code, and would prevail on the merits,” the filing said. “However, the Defendants do not wish to proceed if there is an appearance of impropriety, but instead desire to assure the public that it is in full compliance with any and all notice requirements. Accordingly, the Defendants find it fitting to cancel the meeting scheduled for April 18, 2023.”
There is as of yet no postponed date for the hearing.