By Katie Demeria
The Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation has one simple goal this month: to get commonwealth residents outside.
Saturday is National Get Outdoors Day, and as part of its ongoing celebration of National Great Outdoors Month, the department is offering special programming at all 36 of its state parks.
Shenandoah River State Park will allow visitors to take advantage of the river, offering tubing and kayaking trips in order to encourage local residents to go outside.
Right now, only two spots remain open for the 11:30 a.m. tubing trip on Saturday, which costs $5 per person, while the kayaking trip is already full. But visitors are welcome to swim or fish in the river, as well, free of charge.
Gary Waugh's, DCR's public relations manager, said each state has a different philosophy on their parks. Most of West Virginia's state parks, for example, are resort oriented, offering ski slopes and golf courses.
"We're much more of a conservatio-oriented system," he said. "We really let the outdoors, the natural resources, to be the stars of our state parks. That's what people come to see."
Saturday is likely to be the sunny end to a rainy week, so those who want to take advantage of those natural resources can visit Shenandoah River State Park or Shenandoah National Park to go hiking or fishing.
But those who cannot make it all the way to the parks have local options, as well. Debbie Cook, senior office associate with the Warren County Department of Parks and Recreation, said the community pool will be opening this weekend.
"We have some nice parks that have nice playgrounds for kids," Cook said. "Anyone that's been cooped up all winter with all the snow would like them."
Waugh said getting outside encourages families to develop an appreciation for the natural environment.
"You can't expect people to have a conservation ethic or to develop a desire to care about the outdoors if they don't have the opportunity to go out and enjoy them, to go out and learn about them," he said.
Encouraging residents to appreciate the outdoors is one of the top missions of the DCR, Waugh said. The original state parks were created 70 years ago, he said, with the exact purpose of getting people back outdoors.
The variety of free activities at the parks allows residents the opportunity to improve both their mental and physical health.
"The great thing about the outdoors is that you can really enjoy it at your own pace," he said. "If you want to clear your mind and relax, you can do that. If you're looking for exertion and exercise, there are certainly opportunities for that as well."
"The more they learn about their outdoor landscapes, the more appreciative they are and the more protective of them they become," he added.
For information on all the state park programs offered Saturday, go to www.dcr.virginia.gov/state-parks
Contact staff writer Katie Demeria at 540-465-5137 ext. 155, or firstname.lastname@example.org