Earlier this week, USA Today published a story that pointed out a fact all of us West Virginians know well.
“Few states have as intimate a relationship with the outdoors as does West Virginia,” the article proclaimed.
We understand that intimacy and we’re lucky and proud to live in such a beautiful place. We are reminded of it during our walks in the woods, when we’re out on whitewater rafting excursion, or spending the day fishing on one of our many pristine mountain streams—to name but a few of the outdoor activities many of us enjoy.
As we celebrate Great Outdoors Month this June, it’s worth noting that our outdoors is more than just a source of pride and recreation for us. West Virginia’s gorgeous mountains, deep valleys, and crisp rivers and streams are a critical part of our state’s economic engine.
When I was Governor, I started the Travel West Virginia program, and today tourism contributes more than $4 billion annually to our state and is responsible for employing 44,000 West Virginians. This industry is the underpinning of so many of our small businesses, which are the backbone of our economy.
Tourism in West Virginia has led to exciting innovation in recent years. Locally owned companies are introducing new attractions, like ziplines and aerial adventure parks. Never before in our state’s proud history of excellent recreation has it been the vacation destination it is today.
We need to continue to nurture this growth and diversify our economy through the use of one of our most precious resources: our natural environment.
It’s why, as Chairman of the Senate Commerce Committee, I’ve long supported the Travel Promotion Act. With the public-private partnerships it created and its focus on rural areas, West Virginia is in a better position to attract more visitors. We all know that once people see our mountain vistas and experience our unique vision of the great outdoors, they’ll want to come back again and again.
And when they do, they’ll start their own intimate relationship with our mountains, rivers and parks. I can think of no better way to celebrate Great Outdoors Month than to welcome others to wild and wonderful West Virginia.