Cacapon State Park

One of the lakes at Cacapon Resort State Park. Photo by Ellie Heffernan.

On warm spring days, the forests of West Virginia’s Cacapon Resort State Park sprout bushy, lime-green leaves as people walk along wooded trails, fish in the lake, birdwatch or share a meal at a picnic table, according to the Mountain State Spotlight.

For nearly a century, the park’s old forests, sweeping views and peaceful waters have attracted visitors, many seeking a nature-filled respite from the Baltimore-Washington D.C. rat race. But the park holds a particularly special place in the hearts of local residents who often gather there with friends and family.

“When I bring my grandkids over here, it’s the happiest time I can imagine,” said Craig Thibaudeau, who lives nearby. He recalls fond memories of playing with his grandchildren on the swing sets or beaches and fishing with his brother from Texas.

So when state officials announced plans to build a private RV campground in the park and one of the proposals included several hundred campsites, he was concerned.

“You lose the humanity of this park if you go corporate,” Thibaudeau said. “And that’s the bottom line. It’s the humanity that makes it so special.”

In public protests, he and dozens of others argued the environmental and social consequences of the development would be devastating.

The outcry eventually led the West Virginia Division of Natural Resources to abandon the current campground effort entirely, and the agency is now seeking public input on what facilities it should add to the park.

The fierce debate over the campground at Cacapon was the first test of a law passed last year allowing the private development of facilities in almost all state parks. While the project is on hold, the law remains on the books and state officials could explore development at Cacapon or another park in the future, setting up another struggle over the role of private companies on public land.

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