CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- West Virginia Parks and Recreation Chief Ken Caplinger is stepping down.Caplinger's announced departure comes just days after he told legislators that the state parks system needs an additional $3 million a year to adequately maintain facilities.Caplinger, 56, cited personal reasons for his decision to retire after working for the parks system the past 34 years. He's served as parks and recreation chief since 2008."This very difficult decision is driven by personal choice, and not by any lack of good standing of our park system with [Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin's] administration," Caplinger said in a memo to park superintendents.Earlier this week, Caplinger told state legislators that the parks system has never fully recovered from the June 2012 derecho storm that damaged and closed parks. The system lost $1.5 million in revenue from park closures after the storm hit.A day after speaking to lawmakers, Caplinger notified parks employees that he plans to leave his post in late October."You and your areas, as well as senior park managers remaining in place, have solid and sincere support within the [parks] director's office and the Statehouse," Caplinger wrote in his memo.
Caplinger started in the parks system as assistant superintendent at Watoga State Park from 1979 to 1984. He transferred to Pipestem Resort State Park, where he worked as assistant superintendent and, later, superintendent until 1992.He was promoted to deputy parks chief, then chief of operations in 1994.He served two stints as acting state parks chief -- from 2000 to 2001, and 2006 to 2008.Caplinger, who makes $80,566 a year, oversees 35 state parks, recreational facilities in nine state forests and four wildlife management areas, and the Greenbrier River Trail and North Bend Rail Trail. The parks system has a $105 million yearly impact on West Virginia's economy, according to a 2008 study."Although my role in life is to change," Caplinger said in the memo, "I will continue to do all I can from a personal, private vantage point to assist and promote West Virginia state parks."Caplinger, who lives in Scott Depot, was out of the office and unavailable for comment Thursday.Reach Eric Eyre at email@example.com or 304-348-4869.