In the early years of Virginia State Parks, many operations like swimming areas, snack bars and equipment rentals were handled by private companies operating under concession agreements. Over time profit margins were so thin that it became more difficult to find individuals willing to operate these concessions. As folks that had been running these operations for years retired, we found we couldn’t find anyone willing to replace them.
These operations are very important for the enjoyment of our guests. Swimming beaches, snack bars, equipment rentals, and gift shops are part of what our visitors expect on a visit to a Virginia State Park. So, our park staff learned how to manage these operations as additional duties to their regularly hectic schedules.
Like so many other things our wonderful staff take on, we found we did a very good job. All of the money we make in these operations help support Virginia State Parks. Several years ago State Parks Director Joe Elton challenged our Enterprise staff to meet a $1 million goal in our gift shops. Some parks have a small merchandise area in their park office, others have gift and camp store operations in dedicated space. Merchandising Manager Ann Henderson works hard to help park staff find park relevant merchandise to help visitors find souvenirs to represent their Virginia State Park visit.
Ann and her assistant, Pat Byrne, prepare an annual buyers guide that helps park staff spend less time searching our products that will sell well in their stores.Some parks have special merchandise unique to their parks – ‘coon skin hats at Wilderness Road State Park, train memorabilia at Natural Tunnel and New River Trail state parks, fairy stone products at Fairy Stone State Park, native American items at Occoneechee State Park, and t-shirts and polo shirts designed for the individual parks. Each year we select a special plush toy of the year. My dog Yoda is particularly fond of the 70th Anniversary Copperhead Snake from 2006. He is currently on snake number four.
We have exceeded our $1 million goal and continue to find gift items our visitors will want to take home in memory of their Virginia State Park visit.