New park manager sets goals

Published 9:45 am Tuesday, September 8, 2015

About 88,000 people visit Bear Creek Lake State Park in Cumberland annually to fish, camp, hike, canoe and enjoy the warm sand of the beach along the lake.

Park Manager Charlie Whalen — who was recently hired to oversee and supervise the 324-acre park — sees the number as a challenge to grow the visitorship to over 100,000 visitors annually.

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“I think we do have room to grow there,” the 41-year-old Mathews County native said.

Whalen, who now resides in Cumberland, wants the park to expand its offerings during the off-season, drawing more local people from Cumberland and the surrounding area, reinforcing its existence as a community park.

Whalen, who draws from his experience of previously working at James River State Park in Buckingham and First Landing State Park in Virginia Beach, is serving in his first park manager role at Bear Creek.

“This park is great because it has a little bit of everything,” he said. “I think the history of this park is pretty interesting as well.”

The state park, which is surrounded by the 16,000-acre Cumberland State Forest, opened in 1962.

In his new position, Whalen is not only drawing on his professional experience but also from his love of nature and camping instilled in him by his parents.

“That’s probably what sparked my interest,” he said of camping. “As a kid, that’s what we did. I mean, every vacation was, we had a little pop-up camper so we never stayed in hotels, never flew anywhere,” Whalen said.

His family went from state to state camping. “That was sort of my growing up. All our family vacations were camping.”

At Bear Creek, Whalen wants more local families to experience what he did as a child.

“It seems like it’s a pretty small number,” he said of residents from Cumberland and surrounding areas that visit the park. “My goal is to sort of get out in the community, become part of the community, try to let them know what we have to offer, what makes us different than just their backyard.”

What sets Bear Creek apart from other areas state parks is the size and diversity of activities, he said.

“It’s there, and it’s something you don’t think about,” he said of local visitorship at the park. “Sometimes you go, sometimes you don’t. If you didn’t grow up coming here swimming or anything it’s just something that you know was part of the community, but it’s not anything you ever used.”

The park is located off of Trent’s Mill Road in Cumberland on Bear Creek Lake Road. For more information on the park, call (804) 492-4410 or visit