Mineral County Days promote tourism, Route 220
For the News Tribune
KEYSER - Mineral County Days was held as scheduled on Feb. 10-11 despite Mineral Countians being unable to travel to Charleston due to the pandemic.
Seven meetings plus a celebratory ceremony for this year’s Mineral County honoree Michael Price were held virtually via Zoom. Mineral County participants met with representatives from seven departments and agencies, including Agriculture, Commerce, Tourism, Department of Health and Human Resources, Transportation, Arts, Culture, and History, and the Division of Natural Resources.
There were two main priorities in this year’s meetings –Increasing tourism by expanding outdoor recreational opportunities, and a continued push for the North / South Corridor.
Tourism was discussed in every meeting with the exception of DHHR. The Mineral County Days Committee met repeatedly for five months prior to this year’s event, to develop plans for the following outdoor recreation goals:
• Increase opportunities for kayaking and fishing by adding boat ramps on Patterson Creek at the Route 50 bridge, and above and below the dam in Ridgeley on the North Branch of the Potomac.
• Increase the number of hiking trails available in the county by entering into a partnership with DNR to locate, map, and publicize trails within the Allegany Wildlife Management Area. Currently, Mineral County only has about 15 miles of marked and mapped trails available to the public.
• Increase usage of Larenim Park by adding the following amenities:
- A paved pathway through the Arboretum, ultimately connecting to the footbridge leading to the amphitheater
- Installing benches, picnic tables, and exercise stations along the pathway to encourage people to stay and enjoy more amenities in the park
- Installation of restrooms near the amphitheater so park guests are able to spend the day.
Significant progress was made on all of these goals, and efforts will be made by the committee to follow up by applying for the appropriate grants, establishing volunteer groups to help maintain these areas, and continuing to work with the appropriate agencies to ensure completion.
The Transportation Department also informed the group that the Tier Two Study for the Route 220 – North / South Highway project is still underway and nearing completion. Public hearings are scheduled for this summer. Once the study is completed, funding for the project still needs to be obtained.
The Agriculture meeting was led by Dr. Jennifer Orlikoff, president of WVU – Potomac State College, and Corey Armstrong, director of farm operations and director of the SAGE program, and Dave Miller, Launch Lab coordinator.
Armstrong and Miller gave a visual tour of some of the college’s newest technology and how it was being utilized in the agriculture program. Many topics were discussed with Agriculture Commissioner Kent Leonhardt, who also gave an update of how his department was working to assist with the pandemic response. Commissioner Leonhardt was very impressed with the innovations Potomac State has been making and requested a visit to come see in person in the near future.
Kevin Clark, executive director of economic development in Mineral County, led the discussion with the Department of Commerce, which was represented by Deputy Secretary Michael Graney, Deputy Director Todd Hooker, and Jim Linsenmeyer, regional representative for the Eastern Panhandle counties.
Topics that were discussed included Mineral County’s desire to find ways to support the Virgin Hyperloop project in nearby Tucker County, an emphasis on the importance of the North / South Highway to facilitate access to the Virgin Hyperloop and also to boost tourism and business access to Mineral County, possible local supply chain expansion to feed Northrop Grumman’s increasing production needs, and creative ideas to better utilize the airport and its infrastructure.
The meeting was very productive and it was clear that Kevin Clark has the full backing and support of the Commerce Department for all of the innovative ideas and effort that he has made to bring additional high paying jobs to Mineral County.
Ashley Centofonti, executive director of tourism in Mineral County, led the Tourism meeting with Commissioner Chelsea Ruby and Deputy Commissioner Emily Hatfield. Ashley presented what her office has been working on, including preparation for a resumption of tourism post-COVID, the acquisition of Mountain Streams Radio to assist with tourism marketing, the formation of the Mountain Arts Guild, and the Convention and Visitors Bureau (CVB) and Chamber partnership sponsoring the new Mountain Streams Music and Arts Festival scheduled for aug. 14.
In addition, Ashley explained the goals of increasing tourism by adding additional outdoor recreation opportunities on our rivers, trails, and in Larenim Park.
Commissioner Ruby was very encouraging with how far Mineral County has come in the last four years in terms of tourism, and made several suggestions of grant opportunities and marketing strategies the CVB could pursue.
Mineral County Days resumed on Thursday, beginning with the naming of this year’s honoree, Michael Price. Price was selected by the Mineral County Days Committee, co-chaired this year by Patsy Koontz, Anna Campbell, and Randy Crane. Crane remarked that the ability to honor someone who has truly made a difference to the people in Mineral County is something he enjoys the most.
Price recently retired as CEO of Burlington United Methodist Family Services.
In the last few years of Mike’s tenure, BUMFS moved Sarah’s House to a beautifully renovated location in Keyser, acquired and remodeled the Alkire mansion to be used as a boys’ home, and acquired another property to be used as an additional recovery house. He created lasting partnerships with various agencies in the state to help provide funding and support.
“Mike Price and BUMFS have been truly life-changing to virtually all of their clients, which is quite a legacy for us to honor,” said Crane.
Anna Engle of Keyser represented Senator Joe Manchin in honoring Mike by reading a letter from the Senator recognizing his accomplishments and his service to the community and indeed the state. Our local legislators, led by Del. Ruth Rowan, also offered their thanks and congratulations and Del. Rowan read a House Proclamation honoring Mike. Several BUMFS employees also shared what Mike meant to them as well.
The next meeting with the Department of Health and Human Resources was led by current Burlington United Methodist Family Services CEO Chris Mullett, who delivered a presentation on the new programs and facilities that have come online recently. Chris also expressed thanks to Secretary Bill Crouch for the grants and support that they have received from the state.
A discussion was also led by ODCP director Matthew Christiansen on programs and resources related to the increasing drug epidemic, along with sobering new updates on the increased numbers of addiction. Secretary Crouch also updated the group on the state’s handling of the COVID crisis and the best in the nation rollout of the vaccines.
Chamber president Randy Crane thanked Secretary Crouch for his efforts, and those of his team, as well as the Governor for his unwavering focus on the pandemic as his top priority.
Next came the meeting with the Transportation Department, with Deputy Secretary Jimmy Wriston, State Highway Engineer Alan Reed, Engineer Ryland Musick, Executive Assistant Lorrie Hodges, and District 5 engineer Lee Thorne.
Patsy Koontz and Randy Crane led the discussion from Mineral County, beginning with a big thank you for the traffic light and turn lanes at Route 956 and Route 28, and the massive repaving efforts including Route 28 from the Maryland state line all the way to Route 956, all of Route 956, Patterson Creek Road, Beaver Run Road, Headsville Road, Keyser Industrial Park, Limestone Road, Cut-off Road, as well as five others.
In addition, the DOH also responded to and fixed 14 slides and three bridge repairs. Mineral County roads may never have been better.
Crane explained this year’s tourism-related requests of access for DNR to put in a parking area and boat ramp on Patterson Creek at the Route 50 bridge, and a paved path through the Arboretum at Larenim Park. Both requests were received positively and Mr. Musick explained what needed to be done to move forward with each project.
Arts, Culture, and History was the next meeting scheduled, and the group discussion was led by Barbara Crane, president of the Mineral County Convention and Visitors Bureau, and board member of Ashby’s Fort Museum. The museum has received numerous grants in recent years as a result of Mineral County Days.
Crane thanked Commissioner Randall Reid-Smith, Director of Arts Lance Schrader, and Director of Cultural Facilities and Capital Resources Jenna Green for another round of funding. Barbara also explained the Mountain Streams Music & Arts Festival coming up this summer and expressed interest in a mini-grant to provide a kids workshop on building musical instruments. Also discussed were grant opportunities for other museums and arts organizations in the county, including a grant for murals.
The group thanked the people from Charleston for supporting the arts throughout the state including the History Bowl, music programs including marching band competitions, and so much more.
The last meeting for Mineral County Days was with the Division of Natural Resources. On the call were Zack Brown from the Wildlife Resources Section, and Brandon Keplinger and Gregory Mathews, District 2 fisheries biologists.
Randy Crane opened the meeting by thanking Brandon and Gregory for some preliminary meetings to help get several projects started. Crane explained the desire to create a new put-in for kayakers and fishermen on Patterson Creek at the Route 50 bridge. Crane also expressed interest in two additional put-ins and take-outs on the North Branch of the Potomac above and below the dam in Ridgeley. Finally, Crane talked about the lack of trails in Mineral County and inquired about the possibility of collaborating with DNR to locate, map, and market the existing trails within the Allegany Wildlife Management Area.
Brown explained what could and could not be done, and overall, the meeting ended with optimistic feelings about the viability of each of these projects. While the project is aimed at tourism, developing access to these resources would benefit residents of Mineral County just as much and provide much needed recreation opportunities.