Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

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October 1, 2013

Last ride: Ridge Runner wraps 2013 season

— — It is a sure sign of changing seasons when Bluefield’s beloved Ridge Runner makes its last ride of the year. The vintage train wrapped its successful 2013 season Saturday at Bluefield’s Lotito Park. All individuals involved in helping to make this unique regional tourism attraction a success are to be applauded for their efforts over the spring and summer.

The little train has quite a history in Nature’s Air-Conditioned City, and has provided entertainment for more than two generations of families.

The Ridge Runner started its life in 1964 at the East River Mountain Overlook by transporting passengers on a mile-long route through the two Virginias. Ridership dropped after the East River Mountain Tunnel opened in 1974, and north-south travelers used Interstate 77 through East River Mountain and Big Walker Mountain instead of traveling old U.S. Route 52 into Bland County.

The train was later relocated to city park in 1984 where it operated for several years before being grounded due to maintenance and other issues. The city resurrected the old train in 2011 after a campaign by former City Manager Andy Merriman to officially decommission the train proved unpopular.

 Lori Mills, one of the leaders of the grassroots effort to restore the Ridge Runner, says the number of riders this seasons was about 12,700, which was roughly 1,000 fewer than its 2012 record total of 13,700.

“That puts us at almost 42,000 riders in the three seasons we have been operating,” Mills said. “Our numbers were a little lower than last year, but we had eight days that were completely rained out and several days that we were partly rained out. Still, the community has continued to support us, and we appreciate that.”

We join Mills in applauding the community — and those families both near and far — who continue to support the Ridge Runner. This unique attraction is a great way to get people to Bluefield, and to expose them to the city park and recreational facilities.

 As the little train retires for the season, volunteers with the support of the city of Bluefield plan to explore the possibility of replacing the train’s antiquated 1964 engine. If such a repair is financially feasible, it would certainly make sense. After all, this little train has been entertaining children and families across our region on and off now for about 49 years. So it is probably past time for the engine to be overhauled or replaced. At the very least, a tune-up is probably in order.

We are sad to see the 2013 Ridge Runner season come to a close, but take comfort in knowing that the Ridge Runner will once again be back on track for children and families across the region in 2014. In the meantime, we look forward to preparation for another season of Bluefield’s popular Holiday of Lights — a seasonal attraction also held at Lotito Park.


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