- Associated Press - Sunday, April 17, 2016

WESTON, W.Va. (AP) - Budget cuts and funding uncertainty have placed many West Virginia state parks in survival, rather than expansion, mode. But Lewis County’s Stonewall Resort State Park has opened the first of what could be 20 new luxury cottages in a new, wooded lakeshore development, thanks to a new public-private funding venture at a park developed in part with private sector capital.

Don’t think small and quaint when envisioning Stonewall’s new development: The “cottages” are 2,200-square-foot, two-story, four-bedroom luxury homes equipped with Wi-Fi, gas fireplaces, washers and dryers, central air, roomy kitchens and huge porches. Each bedroom has its own bathroom and flat screen television.

The occupancy rate has been high at Stonewall Resort’s existing 10-unit cottage development, begun in 2002, featuring two- and four-bedroom units overlooking the lake and the resort’s lodge on the opposite shore.

“The four-bedroom units are usually the first to go, so we knew we had a market for more of them,” said Richard Ebright, director of operations for Benchmark Resorts and Hotels, the lodging and recreation concessionaire at Stonewall Resort.

The new cottages will be financed by private investors who will own the units, but agree to make them available for public rental through Stonewall Resort for the majority of the year. Covenants are in place requiring owners to maintain the cottages to agreed-upon standards and cover other maintenance, design and liability issues.

Roads and utilities are in place to accommodate 14 new cottages, five of which are expected to be built this year, according to Ebright.

“We’re hoping there’s enough interest to build a total of 20,” he said.

Stonewall Jackson Lake State Park came into being in 1990, following the 1988 completion of Stonewall Jackson Dam and the 2,650-foot lake formed from the impounded waters of the West Fork River.

“When I started working here, there was the lake, the marina, the campground and a multipurpose building,” said State Parks Superintendent Sam England, who served as superintendent at Stonewall for 17 years earlier in his career, and was on hand for the new cottage development’s opening ceremony April 8.

To add recreational facilities to the new park and satisfy a $35 million debt to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers for building the dam and acquiring the property for its backwaters, the State of West Virginia in 1998 entered into an agreement with McCabe-Henley LP of Charleston to organize the private investment of $42 million, which was added to $23 million contributed by the state. The $65 million public-private state park resort development pool, the first of its kind in the nation, produced the funding needed to develop Stonewall’s Arnold Palmer signature golf course, its 191-room Lakeside Lodge, its 10 original cottages and other amenities - all managed under contract by a private concessionaire, Benchmark Resorts and Hotels.

The opening ceremony “allows us to celebrate the success and dedication of or public-private partnership,” said Michael Hager, Stonewall Resort’s general manager. Since Stonewall Resort State Park began operating in 2002, it has become Lewis County’s fourth-largest employer and produces 170,000 visitor days, pumping more than $50 million into the local economy.

“It’s a very unique venue,” said Col. Bernard R. Lindstrom, head of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ Pittsburgh District. “Our partnership with the state in this park is solid.”

Rudy Henley, who led McCabe-Henley’s effort to build the public-private partnership leading to the development of Stonewall Resort, is now asset manager and developer for the resort. He credits a 1999 report by the National Recreation Lakes Study Commission with building the framework for the partnership at Stonewall.

Among other things, the report called for government initiatives to “build upon community interests to be successful.” Decisions regarding development at the 500 federal lakes that contain at least 1,000 acres of surface water should consider local goals, “so they contribute to the ecological, social and economic well-being of the area.” Private partners should be supported by “allowing them to amortize their long-term investment, providing them with the opportunity to make a profit, and embracing private sector innovations in providing facilities and services to visitors,” according to the report.

“This is part of an expansion that allows us to accommodate more guests and make our product more competitive,” Henley said at the ceremony. “This is just the start of what we will be able to accomplish, as everyone gets comfortable with our partnership. I think there are opportunities around the country for similar partnerships.”

“Even in tough economic times, projects like this show that if you’re willing to cooperate, you can get things done,” said state Division of Natural Resources Director Bob Fala, another speaker at the April 8 event.

McCabe Henley LP arranged the financing for the new cottage development’s newly completed model unit, as well as its site preparation work and utilities.

The new four-bedroom cottage, which sleeps up to 12, rents for $499 nightly.


Information from: The Charleston Gazette-Mail, https://wvgazettemail.com.

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