HOCKING CO., OH (WCMH) – Ohio tourism is now a $44 billion industry and more visitors are coming to the state, according to TourismOhio.

A big contributor to that increase is state parks, especially Hocking Hills. 

The Ohio Department of Natural Resources (ODNR) broke ground on a new $6 million visitors’ center on Thursday. 

“Hocking Hills is four seasons, so we needed something that’s open year round and to be able to accommodate larger crowds,” said ODNR director Jim Zehringer. “Hocking Hills is our premier state park.”

He said over 2 million people travel to the park each year to explore its many trails and features. 

“We think it’s special for Ohio, but it’s special for the whole country,” said Jason Fallon with ODNR. 

People travel locally and even from across the globe just to see the park’s diverse wildlife and fauna. 

“Many moons ago, the glacier actually stopped here in the middle of Hocking Hills,” said Fallon. “That’s why the topography is great here with the waterfalls, with the sandstone and that’s why visitors come here not only during the summer, but 365 days a year.”

The park has seen a boost in tourism as people feel a need to connect with nature. 

“2017 was absolutely a record year for us,” said Karen Raymore, executive director of the Hocking Hills Tourism Association. “It broke all previous records and we certainly hope 2018 will do the same.”

Raymore said more cabins and lodging are being built and with increased tourism comes sustainable jobs and growth. 

Visitors can’t seem to get enough. 

“What they find out is first of all how spectacular it is, but their expectations are exceeded, so they come back frequently,” said Raymore. “They tell their friends and they really help us spread that awareness.”

The new visitors’ center will features two-stories of safety and educational learning space, as well as more restrooms, a snack bar and gift shop. It’s expected to open in December 2018.