CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- West Virginia's top parks official believes "all the pieces are falling into place" for a 75-room lodge to be built at Wayne County's Beech Fork State Park.Ken Caplinger, parks chief for the state Division of Natural Resources, said his agency still needs to meet several U.S. Army Corps of Engineers' requirements and must receive the corps' final approval on the $29 million project."The corps has already approved our conceptual plan -- the size and scope of the building, the general site and layout of the place. They've also accepted our fiscal study," Caplinger said."Now we need to do the environmental assessment and geotechnical work. We're in the process of retaining an architectural and engineering firm to draw up some plans, which the corps will have to review and approve."The project requires corps approval because the lodge would be built on corps-owned land several miles from the state-owned land that houses the rest of the park. The proposed lodge site, located near the Beech Fork Dam and Marina complex, would be located near a well-traveled highway, W.Va. 522, and would overlook a scenic portion of 720-acre Beech Fork Lake.Having a lodge that sits separate from a park would be nothing new for parks officials. Caplinger said Chief Logan Lodge, built on the opposite side of a mountain from the rest of Chief Logan State Park, has been successful despite its detached location."At Chief Logan, we consistently showed a $200,000 to $600,000 [annual] profit above operating costs," he said. "We're using that as a model for the Beech Fork facility."In fact, Caplinger believes a Beech Fork lodge has the potential to be even more profitable."It has three nice things going for it," he said. "It would be built on the shores of a lake, which is rare in West Virginia. It's only a short drive -- 15 minutes or so -- from Interstate 64. And it has the whole Huntington metro area's population base to draw from. Our marketing studies show that it would draw from eastern Kentucky and southeastern Ohio as well."Parks officials expect a 60 percent occupancy rate for the facility, which would equate to a $600,000 to $700,000 annual profit.
"Our fiscal study shows it would be profitable after it reaches its [projected] occupancy rate and revenue intake," Caplinger said. "That usually takes about three years to build up."As envisioned, the lodge would have 75 rooms, a combination indoor-outdoor pool, a full-service restaurant, and meeting space for groups of up to 200 people."And since we'd be on the lakeshore, we'd probably also have a courtesy dock so boaters could tie up to the dock, walk up to the lodge and have lunch," Caplinger said.The lodge's appearance, he added, would closely parallel the rustic-yet-modern vibe of the Chief Logan facility, which in turn was modeled after the lodge at Stonewall Jackson Resort.Ordinarily, construction projects the size and scope of the Beech Fork lodge would have parks officials fretting about where the money might come from. Caplinger said that wouldn't be a concern this time.
"Last year, the Legislature passed a bill that would allow the sale of lottery bonds to finance the project," he explained. "Money from the lottery would be used to retire the bonds. This way we get a lodge without having to carry a debt load for 15 to 20 years."The local delegates and senators, along with the Wayne County HubCAP [development] group, should get a lot of credit for that. They were very instrumental in securing legislative support for the funding."Caplinger said the Parks Section has about a year and a half's worth of work to do before it secures final approval from Corps of Engineers officials."If we achieve the final lease in November 2014 as we anticipate, we're looking at a potential start of construction in March 2015 and an opening in September of 2016," he added. "Based on our studies, this could be quite a good project for all concerned. It would make money, it would hire local folks, and it would bring tourism to a part of the state that doesn't get as much as it should. I think it's a potential winner all around."Reach John McCoy at 304-348-1231 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.