By Adam Pack
With the grand opening of the Sportsman Tavern, the Ronceverte Skate Shop, the Edgarton Café under a new name: The RNCVRT, and other exciting developments involving everything from entertainment to infrastructure, the city of Ronceverte has plenty planned in the coming months and years. One such plan, prepared in great detail by E.L. Robinson Engineering, and presented and advocated for by local businessman and Parks and Recreation Committee Chairman Dan Withrow, looks to completely revitalize the famous Island Park.
According to Withrow, the inspiration for his desire to get involved and lead the Parks and Rec. Committee in revitalizing Ronceverte comes from two sources; first, he remembers a childhood growing up in Ronceverte with a variety of activities and places to visit.
“Growing up in Ronceverte, all of life revolved around Island Park; that’s where the pool was, that’s where the ball fields were, the horseshoe pits; that’s just where you went in the Summer to be with your neighbors,” said Withrow.
He also recalls looking for ways to give back to his community at the beginning of his retirement. “I ran for County Commission and that didn’t work out, and I was just thinking, ‘Ronceverte.’ It was, and is, my home, and I thought I could really help.”
Before getting into the details on the Island Park overhaul, Withrow emphasized what he believes the town needs to weld the town and Island Park together: “The old bridge.”
Withrow’s long term hope and vision for the bridge is an entirely new structure capable of handling traffic, even hosting “music events, possibly, and food trucks, but no matter what it is it has to be passable, because it’s so important to join the town and park together. It’s not really a choice to leave it as-is if we’re going to do all this work in the park.” The bridge would be integral to another concept that Withrow feels would be a huge bonus for Ronceverte – golf carts. Seeing the success of golf cart access in other tourism-centric destinations, Withrow imagines that golf carts, which could not be operated on the major roads except for to cross them, would make the town even more attractive to long-stay vacationers, and would make sense given the layout of the grid of the town.
Arriving at the park itself, Withrow’s first efforts include a part of the park already utilized heavily in recent months, namely the Island Park Amphitheater. “This last summer we hosted the Skyline Bluegrass Festival. It was a revival of the largest bluegrass festival in the state of West Virginia, which used to be hosted very close to Ronceverte many years ago. One thing that sticks out from that event; of the three bands we had that played there, they said the Amphitheater was the most beautiful venue they had ever played.”
That being said, Withrow isn’t content with the Amphitheater’s current condition. “Being built in 1990 it’s got some electrical issues and outdated things that need upgraded, but we’d also like to retrofit the seating to form more of a bowl-like feature, which will both improve the seating as well as update the aesthetics of Amphitheater. Also, of course, we have to do some elevation work to get it out of the floodplain.” To that end, Withrow reported that he’d be meeting with contractors on Feb. 9 to get rough cost estimates for upgrades on the iconic fixture. Withrow stated that, contingent on many factors and subject to change with conditions on the ground, these upgrades could be three to five years in execution, and perhaps cost between $1,000,000 and $1,500,000.”
Moving on to the major body of the Comprehensive Park Plan, the rest of Island Park, that is, Withrow is excited about a host of improvements to the area. Completed sometime between now and mid-summer, Withrow outlined that the park will include new playground equipment with handicap accessible toys and features, nine holes of a Disc Golf course, two places for camping, both in RVs at a site south of the bridge, and another plot for traditional tent camping as well as “glamping” and yurt camping, two very popular forms of alternative camping, on the northern side of the bridge.
All this new long-stay accommodation and activity will be accompanied by a new boat access ramp, Withrow explained, “where the ‘old water plant’ was; as of now the boat access is there right by the Amphitheater, and hypothetically you can’t really stop someone from putting in to float during an event or a concert or something, and that’s just not good for everyone involved.”
There are also efforts by Withrow to bring a tube rental facility to the park for those wishing to float, as well talks currently being held between Withrow and “an outdoor equipment outfitter” who could operate on the park and serve guests. Withrow feels that this flexibility in the ability of people to float the river “really is aimed at making this a family oriented experience. If you get mom and dad to come, grandpa and grandma will come, and that’s going to have a multiplicative effect.”
Lending even further to the attractiveness of the new and improved Island Park to families is the upcoming construction of a mini-golf course on the property of Jardin’s, where the Island Park pool once stood. “All together, these really make for a very strong family-oriented atmosphere on the Island, and that’s exactly what we’re all working toward with these projects.”
According to a press release, “Visitors to the Ronceverte Island Park can expect to find a new miniature golf course welcoming them in the space currently occupied by the Jardin. Gateway Industries has proposed an 18-hole golf course to add to the growing activities that have recently opened and are opening soon to give everyone in the community something to enjoy.
‘I am so happy that the City of Ronceverte is working with Gateway Industries to bring back miniature golf to the Ronceverte Island Park,’ says Ronceverte Mayor Deena Pack. ‘I have many fond memories of playing miniature golf there as a kid. Now, the kids in Ronceverte will have the same opportunity.’”
City officials have met with Gateway Industries to get an understanding of the plan and to assist them in making this fun addition to the park a reality once again. Pamela Mentz, the City Administrator for Ronceverte, confirms that this endeavor has the full support of the City.
However, the Comprehensive Plans extend beyond Island Park, with work currently being done on two separate trail-based projects. One of these projects involves close collaboration with a private landowner to develop mountain biking trails on property northwest of the city, and another being the conversion of the L&R Railroad into trails which could one day connect to the Greenbrier River Trail.
More long term plans are on the horizon, as Withrow also discussed the potential acquisition of the depot building, as well as of the old armory building. In reference to the latter, Withrow hopes “to have some kind of event there for the youth of the area every day, especially in the winter.”
Withrow credits the support of various officials, individuals, and groups that are helping make these plans a reality. “I’m gonna miss some people, simply because there have just been so many, but huge thanks belong to the people of Ronceverte in general, who are so excited for all that’s going on; for the City Council and Mayor Pack and all the members, all the city employees who work so hard to make this place better every day, as well as the dedicated contractors and their employees who are doing great work for us.”
Withrow was forthright about the benefits of bringing outdoor recreation and tourism to Ronceverte: “Outdoor recreation is a $55 billion industry, bigger than even pharmaceuticals. These things are going to be major economic drivers for the area, some people may not quite see it that way, but it truly is. I would love nothing more than to see Ronceverte become the Fayetteville of this area. You think of outdoor recreation and tourism in southern West Virginia and you immediately think of Fayetteville, and we have so many advantages here that we can utilize to achieve great results. We’re sitting on such an opportunity here in Ronceverte.”
Withrow notes that in order to unlock this potential, it will involve a score of planning and some extensive collaborations. “We’re going to have to become one around here; between Lewisburg, Ronceverte, and White Sulphur, if we can get together on these things and work together, we can be a part of the growth and employment that comes with tourism and that will save West Virginia. I truly believe that.”
Discussion about this post