Virginia parks are seeing a rise in popularity - and damage

RICHMOND, Va. (AP) — Virginia's state parks have experienced a surge in visitors during the coronavirus pandemic. But their popularity has led to an increase in littering and alcohol use as well as environmental damage and people taking dangerous risks to post photos on social media.

The Richmond-Times Dispatch reported Thursday that state parks saw 120,000 more visits than they did last June.

Melissa Baker, director of Virginia State Parks, said some of the problem could stem from visitors who “don’t understand the purpose of the facility,” though the park system is “very thankful that people are finding us that weren’t our standard users before.”

Falling Spring Falls, a scenic waterfall in western Virginia, has been “inundated with visitors.” But some are scaling a security fence and trying to reach the falls to take photos.

At Buffalo Mountain Natural Area Preserve in Floyd County, heavy trail use and hikers going off the trail have caused erosion and had an adverse affect on fragile, rare plants.

Bull Run Mountains Natural Area Preserves experienced attempted looting of a Civil War-era quarry trench.

Cape Charles Natural Area Preserve was closed in July and won’t reopen until at least October because visitors were using a boardwalk to jump onto fragile dunes at the edge of the Chesapeake Bay. The jumping compromised the pilings holding up the boardwalk.