One can pardon Sam England for feeling he’s married to West Virginia’s park system.

After all, he married the park system three days before he married his wife.

“It’s true,” says England, the state’s new chief of parks. “I graduated from WVU on a Sunday, became the naturalist at North Bend State Park on Monday, got married to my wife on Thursday and was back at work on Friday.”

The Charleston Gazette reported that more than 30 years have passed since then, a trio of decades that brought England to many of the system’s parks, state forests and wildlife management areas, and put him in charge of more than a few of them.

He believes his experience has prepared him well for the daunting task he faces: administering a sprawling, cash-strapped enterprise that encompasses 50 separate areas and employs some 2,000 people.

“No doubt, funding is the biggest challenge we face,” says the 53-year-old Wyoming County native. “We’ve identified more than $60 million worth of immediate maintenance needs throughout the system. Unfortunately, most of those needs are not sexy — water lines, sewer lines, building structures, stuff like that. Unless we want our parks to crumble before our eyes, we’re going to have to find a way to pay for that maintenance.”

To find out where the needs are most acute, England and Commerce Secretary Keith Burdette have spent weeks crisscrossing the state, picking the minds of park superintendents and meeting with local officials.

“Secretary Burdette had a desire to see the parks and to see what we’re about,” England says. “We began in August, about a month after I came on the job, with the goal of visiting every park within the system.”

What they discovered is that West Virginians are passionate about their parks.

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