Second or vacation homes are increasingly common in parts of West Virginia. The presence of such homes represents a maturing of the regional tourism industry, as visitors find favorite vacation spots attractive enough to want to spend more time there and to make the major investment required to buy a house. Sometimes vacation homes become retirement homes, as well. Their often affluent occupants have a positive impact on the local economy, as does the construction employment and commercial activity involved in building and selling second homes.
Critics point out, however, that large numbers of second homes may strain local services for the benefit of part-time residents, while driving up property taxes and sometimes raising property values beyond the means of local people. Some question the cultural impact, as second-home developments bring in people with different values and habits. Others worry about the loss of wildlife habitat or farmland.
The number of second homes in West Virginia has grown substantially in recent years, with a statewide average increase of 71 percent from 1990 to 2000. For the decade, West Virginia had the fifth-highest growth in the country. Second homes are not equally distributed through the state, however; nor is the growth in second homes equally distributed. The easternmost counties of the Eastern Panhandle, for example, have relatively high numbers of second homes, but the number of new units is growing at a much lower rate there than in some other parts of the state. Presumably this is due to the relative scarcity of building land as the year-round population of the Panhandle counties increases. The number of second homes actually decreased in Jefferson County during the 1990s, as such dwellings were converted to full-time occupancy or replaced by full-time housing.
Pocahontas County, home of Snowshoe Mountain Resort, was identified in 2002 by the Northeast Regional Center for Rural Development as among the nation’s top 50 counties for second homes. Pocahontas County leads West Virginia in the number of seasonal homes as reported by the 2000 census with 3,060, an increase of nearly 115 percent since 1990. Similar trends may be seen around Canaan Valley, with the number of second homes in Tucker County growing 200 percent during the 1990s. Second homes at Snowshoe, Canaan, and other resorts are often maintained as vacation rentals, occasionally used by their owners but available for rent on a short-term basis.
The distribution of second homes in West Virginia suggests that fine mountain scenery and outdoor recreational opportunity are key considerations. The 12 counties having 1,000 or more second homes form a contiguous unit stretching along the Virginia border from Berkeley County to Monroe County. This area includes West Virginia’s highest elevations and its two major skiing areas, and nearly all of the Monongahela National Forest. The distribution of these counties along the state’s eastern border suggests that proximity to East Coast population centers is also an important consideration in the location of second homes. In this regard it is expected that the completion of four-lane Corridor H through the Eastern Panhandle to Virginia will lead to additional development. For the foreseeable future, West Virginia is likely to remain the region’s home away from home.
Written by Jason Siniscalchi