CHARLESTON— Irish luck may have smiled a little in the upper Kanawha Valley on St. Patrick’s Thursday.
But the toil and sweat of many over the past few years has also helped bring good news for the region from financial benefactors.
The Kanawha County Commission announced that it has received a POWER grant from the Appalachian Regional Commission in the amount of $675,210. The ARC POWER scholarships result from a highly competitive application process.
In a press release earlier today, the ARC revealed that it had awarded nearly $21 million for 21 projects impacting 211 counties under the POWER (Partnerships for Opportunity and Workforce) initiative. and Economic Revitalization), which targets federal resources to communities affected by coal job losses. mining, coal-fired power plant operation and coal-related supply industries.
ARC Federal Co-Chair Gayle Manchin announced the award during a roundtable in Youngstown, Ohio to discuss strategies and new opportunities to enhance industry growth in communities impacted by the coal.
“We are thrilled to award this new round of funding to coal-affected communities in Appalachia,” Manchin said. “The partnerships forged through POWER projects are helping transform county and state economies to help build a more resilient and prosperous Appalachia. When the coal-affected communities of the Appalachian region succeed, the rest of our country is strengthened.
In a Kanawha County press release, Manchin said, “I commend the Kanawha County Commission for its work in expanding and creating new businesses that will support an active outdoor recreation economy in West Virginia. Partners like the Kanawha County Commission are integral to delivering our POWER projects, and I look forward to seeing how our Appalachia region continues to grow, thanks to the impact of their work.
The ARC grant will be supplemented with funds from the Claude Worthington Benedum Foundation ($319,000) and the Kanawha County Commission ($225,000) to bring the total allocation to just over $1.2 million. dollars to fund engineering and design efforts to obtain the Upper Kanawha Valley Outdoor Above Ground Recreation Plan.
In 2021, the Kanawha County Commission completed a major outdoor recreation-based development strategy and master plan encompassing a 30-mile stretch east of Charleston on both sides of the Kanawha River. The plan was prepared by Civil and Environmental Consultants Inc. For more information, visit www.kanawha.us.
The ambitious plan has many facets, including campgrounds, walking trails, mountain biking trails, river access points and other tourism-related businesses.
The ARC grant will support projects such as trail design and development, improving recreational access to the river, growing small businesses, and opening the Hatfield-McCoy trail system in Kanawha County.
Thanking the ARC and Manchin, as well as the Benedum Foundation, Kanawha County Commissioner Ben Salango – citing the downturn in the coal industry and other factors – said: “The upper Kanawha Valley has been battered these last years.” is a major step” towards revitalizing the UKV, he said. Salango noted that earlier in the day he had said, “All those great ideas, those great projects, they just sit on a shelf and gather dust until you have funding. Sometimes it’s better to have lucky to be good. And we got a little lucky on this one.”
During the planning stages, two major events spurred things on, he said, and those were the designation of the New River Gorge National Park and Preserve and the appointment of Manchin as co-chair of the ‘BOW.
“There are wonderful people, I mean wonderful people up there (UKV communities), and it will bring in millions and millions and millions of dollars (in recreational tourism),” Salango said.
“The Upper Kanawha Valley has taken a beating in recent years, but I believe this award will benefit UKV residents and all towns along the Kanawha River – from Marmet to Montgomery,” said the chairman of the Commission, W. Kent Carper, in a statement. Press release. “I extend my sincere thanks to Federal Co-Chair Gayle Manchin and the CRA for this award.
“It’s the foundation of the Upper Kanawha Valley Recovery,” Carper said at the ceremony.
“This is a wonderful announcement and a great day for Kanawha County and the people of the upper Kanawha Valley,” said Commissioner Lance Wheeler, who noted his first vote for the commission in January 2021 was in favor. of the continuation of the UKV plan. “This grant will enable the county to continue economic development and small business growth in the UK.”
“The job is not done,” Wheeler said. “This project we’re doing right now is going to take more federal money, it’s going to take more community involvement, and we won’t stop until we finish this project and we’re ‘bringing prosperity back to the Upper Kanawha Valley.
Along with getting critical funding, Wheeler said elected officials can’t undertake such projects “without community support, and we’ve seen that support in that community.”
Montgomery’s Greg Ingram was among the UKV mayors present for Thursday’s announcement. “I think that puts all of our efforts on the back foot,” Ingram said of the funding. “This is long needed and long overdue support for the Upper Kanawha Valley.” The ARC’s involvement is critical, Ingram said. “I don’t think they would invest that kind of money and back it up with the bricks and mortar, that part of it.”
“You never turn down help and, wow, that’s huge,” he added. “And the Kanawha County Commission has been on a mission for probably a year and a half or two years now to help us. When Tech left, the County Commission fought against that, and at that time I think that Commissioner Carper decided that we were gonna do something… to help the Upper Kanawha Valley.
“They have the UKAN program (an Upper Kanawha business relief effort) that is helping businesses right now, but it’s infrastructure.”
“This is going to help each community pull together their part of the plan,” Smithers Mayor Dr. Anne Cavalier said. “Most communities have a part-time mayor.
“They don’t have an economic development officer, they don’t have anybody to turn to and say, ‘Okay, we’ve got the money, now go ahead.
“With this money that’s been poured in today, we’re going to have three people, one person at the Land Trust, one person at the Charleston Area Alliance, and another person here with Kanawha County. They’re going to be the boots on the ground that will help us.
The financial possibilities look great once the plan begins to take shape, she said. Short-term construction dollars will drive the economy, while longer-term potential for new businesses such as bed and breakfasts, restaurants, kayak rentals, new housing, and new hotels and motels could be important.
Other UKV mayors present included David Fontalbert of Marmet, David Fletcher of Belle and Paul Bradshaw of Chesapeake.
Consultant Terrell Ellis praised various partners who are stakeholders in the plan, such as the Charleston Area Alliance; the West Virginia Land Trust, which is developing the 5,000-acre Mammoth Preserve, a forest and stream restoration project near Smithers that will be “an anchor for the project”; and the Hatfield-McCoy trail system, which stretches across the region. The latter two are already mapping trails, Ellis said.
The comprehensive plan will require “the cooperation of many partners, and it will not happen overnight,” she stressed.
The funding will provide resources to “get started” and provide technical support such as design work for trail systems, trailheads, water access points and other areas, Ellis said.
Of the. Larry L. Rowe said the accessibility of adventure sports to the city of Charleston is an important factor in the plan and that “Charleston will become the gateway to New River Gorge State Park”.
Rowe said private investment in the plan would be essential, and as a lawmaker he also discussed bills passed to create infrastructure matching grant scenarios. Funding for abandoned mining lands can also figure into the equation, he said.
A unique part of the plan is “what’s really happening on the ridges,” Rowe said. “We will have trails criss-crossing everywhere.” In addition, there will be shelters, water points, camping and possibly lodges from the private sector.
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Along with the awards, ARC has invested more than $316.6 million in 393 projects in 358 coal-impacted Appalachian counties since POWER’s inception in 2015. The 21 new projects announced this week will support entrepreneurship, workforce development, infrastructure, tourism and healthcare projects to create jobs, expand skills and vocational training and attract new private investment in Appalachian communities impacted by the downturn in the coal industry.
“Through this new round of investments through ARC’s POWER grants, coal-affected communities will benefit from opportunities that will help create 21st century jobs in the region,” said the United States Co-Chair. ARC, Governor Larry Hogan of Maryland. “We are thrilled to see these projects succeed in helping to create a stronger economic future for Appalachia.”
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