A new marketing campaign will build on underappreciated national parks in southern West Virginia that already attract more than 1 million visitors annually to the region.

Visit Southern West Virginia said the campaign will harness the power of the National Park Service to lure more visitors to the New River Gorge National River, Gauley River National Recreation Area and the Bluestone National Scenic River.

They’ll be marketed under the banner: the National Parks of Southern Virginia.

Christy Bailey of Visit Southern West Virginia told the Register-Herald this will be the largest campaign every undertaken by the organization, formerly the Southern West Virginia Convention and Visitors Bureau.

Bailey said 1 million copies of “The Great American Vacation” publication will be printed and distributed through the National Park Service, West Virginia Division of Tourism, area visitor centers and other outlets. The group has also launched a website, online marketing and a television campaign.

The campaign is aimed at promoting southern West Virginia national parks that many people often don’t realize are part of the nation’s park system.

“This campaign will increase visibility of our parks, celebrate their unique qualities and bring new visitors to the region to appreciate and experience them,” Bailey said.

The pitch will bank on the National Park Service as one of the most recognizable brands in the world, she said. With the campaign being made ahead of the centennial in 2016 of the Park Service, the marriage of southern West Virginia and the NPS couldn’t have come at a better time, she said.

Studies underscore the need for a campaign to heighten awareness of the parks.

They show that 45 percent of visitors to the three area parks didn’t realize they were visiting national parks and that they would have visited sooner if they’d known, according to New River Gorge National River Superintendent Trish Kicklighter.

Kicklighter said the increased awareness can only be a good thing for the national parks, encouraging a greater appreciation among visitors.

“If people don’t know they are in a national park, how do they know how to behave when they are here and how to protect these resources?” she said.

Last year, the three National Parks of southern West Virginia brought 1.2 million visitors to the area and contributed $60.6 million to the economy of the four surrounding counties. Park tourism supported 670 jobs in the area.

Visit Southern West Virginia announced the campaign at the Canyon Rim Visitor Center in Lansing, which was crowded with visitors for Saturday’s Bridge Day.

Photo Credit: Rafting the Gauley River in West Virginia. Official U.S. Navy Page / Flickr