10 Endangered State Parks
They're beautiful, they're close to home, and they're steeped in history. But the best reason to vacation in one of our state parks? They're fast becoming an endangered species.
Blackwater Falls State Park
Blackwater Falls's namesake cascade isn't just the most picturesque spot in this 2,456-acre park—it's also one of the most photographed places in the state. The area is equally eye-catching when it's dressed in the bright greens of spring, the Crayola-box colors of autumn, or silvery winter, when parts of the falls freeze into man-size icicles. The falls themselves—more brown than black—get their distinctive hue from tannic acid that leaches into the river from hemlock and red spruce needles upstream.
But there's something potentially more serious darkening the future of West Virginia's state parks: hydraulic fracturing (a.k.a. fracking) wells that could be built on ecologically significant public lands. Surface rights don't always include the mineral rights when park land is acquired; in West Virginia, the mineral rights under approximately 40 percent of the state parks, including Blackwater, are privately held. It's those split-custody parks that experts say are at greatest risk. Chief Logan State Park, about 200 miles away, already lost a fracking battle when the state's Supreme Court, over the objection of the W. Va. Department of Environmental Protection, voted unanimously in 2010 to allow natural gas drilling in the park—a process that typically calls for not just drilling, but also the construction of roads and the clear-cutting of trees. Almost the entire state of West Virginia sits atop the Marcellus Shale, the natural-gas source targeted at Chief Logan, which means that a dozen or so other parks could soon find themselves fighting for their rights, too.
Where to Stay: Outdoorsy types can pitch a tent at 65 campsites, or upgrade to one of 26 deluxe cabins with full kitchens, private bathrooms, and fireplaces—but not A/C. For that creature comfort, you'll need to book a night in the 54-room lodge, which also has a game room and an indoor pool (blackwaterfalls.com, camping from $20, lodge rooms from $84).
While You're There: Plan a day trip to the small yet lively town of Elkins, W. Va., taking the hour long scenic route through Blackwater and Canaan Valley State Park. In Elkins, the Randolph County Community Arts Center hosts free concerts, arts workshops, and traveling exhibitions year-round—its third Smithsonian exhibition just came through this summer (randolpharts.org).
How to Help: Donate cash, stock, or even office supplies to Friends of Blackwater, a group focused on preserving the ecosystem of Blackwater Canyon (saveblackwater.org).
Park Info: 1584 Blackwater Lodge Rd., Davis, W. Va., 304/259-5216, blackwaterfalls.com, open 6 A.M.-10 P.M., admission free.
Honeymoon Island State Park
You'd expect a place called Honeymoon Island to be dreamy, and with four miles of white beaches and two more of nature trails (where osprey, terns, and bald eagles nest), Florida's most popular state park is tailor-made for romantic strolls. Even back when it was known as Hog Island—before a 1930s developer put up a string of beach cottages and renamed the spot to lure newlyweds—visitors to the tiny barrier island were all but guaranteed dolphin sightings and stunning sunsets over the Gulf of Mexico. The cottages are gone now, but more than a million people still cross the bridge to the island each year to spend the day swimming, surfing, kayaking, and collecting shells along the north shore. The only thing you can't do is sleep under the stars. Last year Florida proposed adding a privately run RV campground to Honeymoon Island State Park, citing high demand for more camping opportunities in state parks. However, area residents protested the campground and its potential disruption of the park's ecosystem, and the plans were dropped. For now, at least, the beaches close at sunset, with only those osprey, terns, and eagles to look after them.
Where to Stay: Hotels and vacation rentals abound in the adjacent towns of Dunedin and Clearwater. Frenchy's Oasis Motel, 11 miles south of the park, gives the old-fashioned motor lodge a Mid-Century Modern spin with starburst clocks, a bright, citrusy palette, and free Wi-Fi (frenchysoasismotel.com, doubles from $119).
While You're There: Before a hurricane divided them in the 1920s, Honeymoon Island and neighboring Caladesi Island were a single land mass. Today, you can only reach car-free Caladesi by boat (or Jet Ski). The only public ferries leave from Honeymoon Island; rides take 20 minutes and run every half hour starting at 10 A.M. (caladesiferry.org, $14 round-trip).