West Virginia’s seaside resorts have been a thriving destination for sports fanatics and surfers for decades. Like other West Virginia vacation areas, the state relies on tourism to generate much of its economic growth. And like other West Virginia tourism destinations, it is increasingly reliant on its huge public beaches — which include several on the Great Smoky Mountains and others in the Appalachians. The Public Service Commission estimates that 230,000 people visit the beaches annually.
The majority of those visitors are from outside West Virginia, and the state relies on local economies to keep the beaches running. About two-thirds of its hotels are within 40 miles of the beaches.
The state’s beaches are managed by the West Virginia Marine Resources Commission. The commission works closely with USMMA and with a six-person Board of Commissioners charged with overseeing operations. The Marine Resources Commission has negotiated contracts with vendors to supply sand and water — as well as a number of infrastructure items, such as docks and poles, that are more typically provided by private entities.
WVMARC manages the beach property, including the beach itself, beach parking lots, restrooms, lifeguard stands, concession stands, restrooms, parking lots, beach garages, docks, tubing areas, beach clubhouse, fire pits, bathrooms, and other amenities. As they do every year, the board and the Marine Resources Commission analyze marketing data to determine the most effective ways to attract visitors.
Some visitors come to the beach specifically because they want to use the bathrooms. The Marine Resources Commission builds specific cleanliness requirements into its contracts with vendors. Water temperature is a component of the service as well. “The Pacific, there’s a big temperature difference in there, so we set maximum temperatures every year, and so we’re constantly in discussion with that,” Dan Michelsen, the state’s deputy director of beaches, told the Atlantic.
Also at issue is hydrology, which relies on a combination of rainfall and beach soil to provide moisture for the surf. “Hazmat professionals manage the ocean by checking the pH levels that filter through the surf,” Mr. Michelsen said. “That water is brought back up and fed into the system. This kind of stuff is really at the heart of our public and private beach facilities.”
The Marine Resources Commission has a fleet of 20 beach wheelchairs that help visitors with disabilities.
Don Steinbrenner — who was West Virginia’s comptroller and is now a University of Louisville associate professor of accounting — is something of a shark in the shark tank that is North Carolina. If he succeeds with his beach project, it will go a long way toward propping up his beleaguered state’s economy. He raised millions of dollars in private funds for a 4-mile artificial beach constructed offshore from the Outer Banks in case the beach at Ocracoke vanished. The beach, with walkways and jetties, was moved from North Carolina to Virginia in advance of Hurricane Florence. The pitch even came from people who previously criticized him for building casinos in Mississippi, Alaska and Maryland, accusing him of shifting his priorities to the coast.