Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

January 16, 2014

Legislators look at possibility of new campground

By GREG JORDAN
Bluefield Daily Telegraph

BLUEWELL — Legislators representing Mercer and McDowell Counties say they support the idea of seeing whether a campground at Pinnacle Rock State Park is feasible, but add that finding the money for a study would be the next step.

Since May 2012, all-terrain vehicle enthusiasts have been coming to Mercer County and riding the Pocahontas Trail, a new branch of the Hatfield-McCoy ATV trail system running through southern West Virginia. Entrepreneurs have responded to this new traffic by opening resorts, offering apartments as accommodations, and opening restaurants. Local business people believe creating more lodging could let the county tap more deeply into tourism revenue.

Skip Crane, a Bluewell businessperson, said he constantly sees ATV riders coming through his community. Executive Director Marie Blackwell of the Convention and Visitors Bureau of Mercer County, local leader Beverly Wellman, and Editor Samantha Perry of the Bluefield Daily Telegraph discussed the possibility of bringing a campground to Pinnacle Rock State Park.

The state park is near the Pocahontas Trailhead at the town of Bramwell, which has also benefited, like Bluewell, from an influx of tourists.

Local delegates and state senators contacted Wednesday by the Daily Telegraph supported a study to see whether a Pinnacle Rock campground was feasible.

“I think the state currently has staff on board to conduct that type of study, that kind of assessment,” said Delegate Clif Moore, D-McDowell.

A similar study was done several years ago at Berwind Lake near the town of War, Moore said. The state Department of Natural Resources and the state Parks Department could have the experts needed to see if a Pinnacle Rock campground was possible. Moore added that he planned Wednesday to contact both departments about the idea, and thought the cost could be minimal.

“I don’t think it’s going to take extra dough,” he said. “I think it’s just a matter of time and getting the right people to look at it.”

One factor the study would have to address is whether there would be enough traffic to justify constructing a campground, Moore said.

“Sometimes we don’t get things done in southern West Virginia because we don’t ask, and we don’t ask the right people,” he added.

Delegate Marty Gearheart, R-Mercer, stated he would support the idea of finding funding for a feasibility study. The campground would have to be self supporting.

“It would be a great thing to do if we could make it revenue positive,” he said. “If the feasibility study is positive, I would be very supportive of doing it.”

Legislators would need to learn more about the campground idea, but would be in favor of looking into it, said Delegate Joe Ellington, R-Mercer. One challenge is finding the money at a time when the state is looking for ways to cut spending.

Ellington said the state sometimes has money available for economic development projects in the counties.

“I think it’s a terrific idea, and I would certainly be willing to work on it,” said Delegate John Shott, R-Mercer. “Skip mentioned it to me a few months ago, and I thought it sounded like a good idea then. I would want to do a little investigating in order to see what the park would have to do to accommodate something like that.”

If funding is not available at the state level, it may be found on the local level, Shott said.

“It doesn’t sound like it would take a lot of money,” Shott said. “We’ll certainly look into it.”

Sen. Bill Cole, R-Mercer, was also supportive of the campground idea.

“I think Skip has a phenomenal idea. Tourism, obviously, is incredibly important to our state,” Cole said. “The possibilities are virtually endless.”

Paying for a feasibility study could be a challenge with the present pressure on the state budget.

“The idea’s phenomenal, but the timing may not be best given the state of financial affairs right now,” Cole said.

Cole stated he would be happy to work with other legislators and see if an appropriate source of funding can be found. Finding local funding could be an option, too.

“It may be incumbent locally to come up with the money so we can make a good case for the state,” he said.

Sen. Truman Chafin, D-Mingo, said in a statement sent to the Daily Telegraph that he fully supported the project and had spoken with Beverly Wellman and others about making it a reality.

“As a member of the Senate Finance Committee, I, along with Senator Cole, will work on procuring the funds needed to accomplish this,” Chafin said. “While Gov. (Earl Ray) Tomblin was senate president, he and I did the initial funding of $500,000 for the Hatfield-McCoy Trail and we envisioned more West Virginia parks where people could stay. I believe more options on accommodations and food service are the keys to success and no better place than Pinnacle Rock State Park.”

— Contact Greg Jordan at gjordan@bdtonline.com