HINTON — On Wednesday, a family group from Martinsburg was among those streaking across Bluestone Canyon on the new Pipestem Peaks zip line, while a family from Long Island, New York, lounged on the beach at Adventure Lake, watching others try to clamber aboard huge inflatables.
A few hundred feet away, a South Carolina family was among a midweek crowd cooling their heels in a sparkling new 15-feature splash park.
The new activities — launched earlier this year along with tube, inflatable kayak and raft trips on nearby stretches of the Bluestone and New rivers, rock climbing instruction, and guided mountain bike trips — have already helped create a spike in visitors to Pipestem Resort State Park.
“We’re starting to get our story out,” said West Virginia Division of Natural Resources Director Stephen McDaniel of the new public-private partnership between the West Virginia State Parks system and Pipestem Adventures and its partner, ACE Outdoor Adventures.
Under the terms of the partnership, privately owned Pipestem Adventures operates the new zip line, Bluestone and New river float trips, rock climbing and mountain bike rentals and tours, splash park and Adventure Lake with its own staff and gear.
The splash park and new amenities at Adventure Lake (formerly known as Long Branch Lake), include challenging-to-climb inflatables and paddleboard, canoe and kayak rentals. They were built and equipped through a partnership with ACE. ACE operates a similar splash park and lake at its Fayette County headquarters.
“We’re offering new activities here that families can do together,” said Paul Buechler, the man in charge of Pipestem Adventures and the chief financial officer for ACE. “At this point in our first year, it’s gone over well and helped draw more people to the park.”
“We’ve gone from having virtually no visitors to the lake to having hundreds here every weekend,” McDaniel said.
More than 3,000 visitors have traveled the 1.5 miles of zip line at Pipestem Peaks zip line tour since it opened in May. The nine-station zip line course crosses the Bluestone River three times — at 300 feet above the surface of the stream on one zip. Speeds of up to 50 miles an hour can be reached.
“Pipestem’s topography was made for a zip line tour,” said Buechler, the founder and former CEO of Adventures on the Gorge. The course was designed and built by Colorado-based Bonsai Design, the company that built Summit Bechtel Reserve’s vast array of zip lines and the Tree Tops Canopy Tour at Adventures on the Gorge, among others.
Those taking the tour begin from a platform not far from Pipestem’s upper tramway station, and on their final zip, cross the Bluestone at low elevation to reach a platform from which they belay to the ground. From there, a short hike takes them to Mountain Creek Lodge at the base of the tramway for a ride back to the top of the canyon.
The zip line tour was built with about $1 million of an $11 million investment made by the DNR for improvements at Pipestem, West Virginia’s busiest state park. That allocation was made possible through the $55 million bond issue state park improvements approved by the Legislature last year.
McDaniel said part of the credit for improved numbers at West Virginia State parks this year goes to improvements made to the state park system’s website. It displays information needed to make decisions and allows reservations and payments to be made instantly for state park activities involving fees, as well as lodge rooms, cabins — and now, campgrounds.
Until four months ago, “people had to wait until February to send in a request by mail to reserve a campsite they hoped to stay at months later,” McDaniel said. To use such a system in the 21st Century to handle campground reservations for the 1,800 campsites in the state park system made no sense, McDaniel said. He added that park superintendents and campers, alike, have praised the new system.
Upgrades to the state park system’s social media sites and an increase in funding for state park tourism are also helping “get the word out about how much we have to offer,” he said.
Pipestem’s $11 million in funding for improvements will also pay for $3 million in lodge upgrades, the $1.3 million replacement of its water and sewer plants, $650,000 for HVAC upgrades to the park’s cabins, $666,000 for tramway renovations and $320,000 for campground utility improvements.
Through the bond issue, state parks and forests across the state will receive funding for repairs and renovations. Projects now out for bid or recently awarded include cabin improvements at Babcock, Beech Fork, Bluestone, Blackwater, Cacapon, Cass, Holly River, Lost River, North Bend, Twin Falls, Tygart Lake and Watoga state parks, and Greenbrier, Kumbrabow and Seneca state forests.