Elton is Virginia State Parks director, a title he has held for nearly two decades. Virginia's 35 state parks, boasting nearly 500 miles of trails, will participate in National Trail Week, which began Saturday. Visit virginiaoutdoors.com for more information.
How has park popularity shifted since the economy tanked four years ago?
As gasoline prices and the economy have worsened, people have looked for close-to-home options. They know they need the special time with family and friends, but they don't have to hop on an airplane. There's a Virginia state park within one hour of every Virginian. Last year was our second-highest year in history. For the first time, we had over a million overnight visitors.
That must mean a lot of first-timers.
We've been able to put together a very robust web presence that includes a virtual tour of our trails. Folks today don't grow up in the country, and there's less knowledge about outdoors and wildlife, so we want to break down any barriers. By taking a virtual tour, you get a chance to see what you're in for. For parents, it's great because they can watch the tour and as they lead their children on the tour they can sound informed.
Any advice for those folks?
You don't have to buy a lot of gear. You need some decent walking shoes, blue jeans and shorts and sweatshirts and T-shirts and a rain jacket. If you're in the suburbs of D.C., consider going to Shenandoah River State Park and using one of the camping cabins that can hold your family, so you've got a roof over your head.
How are the state parks participating in trail week?
What we've decided to do this year is really bump up our activity at every state park. The idea is to help remind Americans that our state parks are nearby. There are places that enhance their health and well-being by getting them out of the city where the air is clean and get our heart rates up.