KEYSER - When you drive into Keyser, what is your first impression of “The Friendliest City in the U.S.A.?”

By Liz Beavers
Tribune Managing Editor
KEYSER - When you drive into Keyser, what is your first impression of “The Friendliest City in the U.S.A.?”
This is the question which a research team from the First Impressions Program of the West Virginia University Extension Service attempted to answer this past summer.
Wednesday, two representatives of the program first met with a small group of community representatives, then later with a group of area citizens, to share their “first impressions” and start a resultant dialogue about what Keyser can do to boost its appeal to anyone traveling to the area or looking to locate here.
The meetings were hosted by WVU Medicine Potomac Valley Hospital, and were the kick-off to what Extension Service representative Michael Daugherty said would be “about a nine-month process” of meetings, discussion, plan development, and action.
The hospital is involved, Daugherty explained, because one of the goals of the program is to “make Mineral County a more desirable place for medical professionals and others” to relocate.
The results shared during both of Wednesday’s meetings came from a group of seven people who traveled to Keyser this past summer, taking notes on what positive things they felt the town had to offer and what issues could possibly be turned around to become positives.
Daugherty explained that such a group of people who previously “had no real knowledge of Keyser” can often come into a town and “are able to see the good and the bad” - often things which residents wouldn’t notice on a day-to-day basis.
Daniel Eades, who coordinates the program, shared some of the following positives which the group members mentioned:
 - Geography and landscape. Members liked the fact that Keyser is “nestled in the mountains,” and called it “attractive and quaint.”
 - Parks and visible walking programs. The members noted the existence of several parks, including the South End Park and Mill Meadow, and the brightly colored signs for the Keyser on the Move program, which maps out walking routes of differing difficulty throughout the city.
 - Downtown architecture. The group liked the diversity of architectural styles in the downtown business district, although were disappointed at the number of empty storefronts.
 - Potomac State College. They felt having a college in the town is “a tremendous asset” and suggested that more off-campus activities and gathering places are needed for PSC students.
 - Availability of health care. They cited the hospital, health department, and numerous doctor’s and dentist’s offices as definite assets.
 - The windmills on Green Mountain. The group felt they were a sign that the community is “innovative and forward-thinking.”
 - The people. The members of the group repeatedly commented about the friendliness of the people with whom they spoke, and commented that there seems to be a “good mix of ages and ethnic diversity.”
The following were seen as challenges or negative aspects of Keyser:
 - Signage. Both Daugherty and Eades commented that there was no “welcome” sign to greet visitors coming off Memorial Bridge. When the group noted that there is indeed a sign on the right, however, it was suggested that placement could be better because all the visitors missed seeing the sign when they drove into town.
They found the “welcome” sign on the south side of town, however, appealing and welcoming.
 - The downtown business section needs to become more integrated with the rest of the city, and should be better utilized as a center for activity.
They also felt there needs to be better signage directing people from U.S. Route 220 to the downtown area.
 - Branding and community perception. The members of the group said that, other than the “Friendlies City” designation, which they felt was a bit generic, there is nothing giving Keyser a unique identity.
They also commented that the residents of Keyser “don’t seem very proud  of the community,” and when they were asked what there is to do in Keyser, the residents advised the group they would have to go somewhere else to find something to do.
 - Many rundown and unkempt properties and sidewalks in disrepair.
(Tomorrow: A rundown of several suggestions and comments which came out of Wednesday’s meeting.)