The Register-Herald, Beckley, West Virginia

Latest News

July 14, 2014

Beckley officials hope upgrades at New River Park enhance city

From safer traffic patterns to a newly painted pool cabana, New River Park is brighter and more child-friendly this summer.

The park will offer many more “surprises” for city residents and tourists in the upcoming months, according to Beckley Parks and Recreation Director Leslie Gray Baker.

Baker, the director of the Beckley Exhibition Coal Mine complex, was recently appointed by Beckley Mayor Bill O’Brien to help bring about former Mayor Emmett Pugh’s vision of New River Park as a “destination” location.

Pugh’s plan had placed a high emphasis on renovations of the 13 city parks as a way of enhancing Beckley, said Baker.

“Then (O’Brien) just determined that we were going to fix up the park,” said Baker. “We want to make this a destination.”

Baker said the Raleigh County Make It Shine Committee had focused on adding green space around the city and had collaborated with city officials to create Thornhill Courts on South Fayette Street, a basketball/playground and fountain area that replaced the dilapidated Raleigh vocational school building in 2008.

She added that RCMS is “the driving force” behind the current effort to beautify Beckley parks.

The committee, along with members of Mac’s Toy Fund, Beckley Area Foundation and the Carter Family Foundation, is now working with the city to upgrade and renovate New River Park, the city’s largest park and the site of an Olympic-size swimming pool and waterslide and the Beckley Exhibition Coal Mine, said Baker.

Baker added a new traffic pattern at the park in order to reduce the risk of accidents.

She also banned parking from the curved area of the pool road between the pool and Exhibition Coal Mine and declared the parking spaces in front of the dinky train to be employee and handicapped parking spaces only.

“Employees come, and they’re not ‘back and forth,’ and there’s no safety issue for the kids,” said Baker. “Up there, to the right side of the park, the parking was just horrendous.

“There was a lot of pedestrian traffic, so we made that area no parking, which made it a whole lot safer for the kids from the neighborhood to come and play on the big toy.”

The big toy was added this summer season across from the pool cabana, and Baker said the addition of handicapped spaces will benefit many grandparents who are bringing grandkids to play on the big toy.

Park officials are working with civic groups to fence in the big toy area in the near future, she added.

Signage has been added to make navigating the park easier, and AmeriCorps workers from the Appalachian Coal Country Team are currently addressing an erosion problem on the hillside separating the historical dinky train and the coal mine, said Baker.

She added that the sandbox at the hillside will be removed.

A major “facelift” project was the re-design and painting of the pool cabana, said Baker.

For years, the cabana — which hosts a full concession stand, employee quarters and restrooms/changing facilities — was 20 different colors, said Baker.

Beckley Youth Museum artist-in-residence Rebecca Beckett Jenkins worked with Baker and veteran pool manager Sharon Dempsey to revamp the color scheme on the cabana.

Baker said she and Dempsey at first lobbied for bright colors, but Jenkins returned from Lowe’s with a palette of two teal shades, two shades of brown and a contrasting orange hue.

“The more we painted, the more it was like, ‘This is beautiful,’” admitted Baker. “It’s rich-looking and so much better.”

The soothing tones of the pool area are in harmony with the earth tones of the big toy, she added.

Improvements were also made to the changing rooms and employees’ quarters.

The next major project for the park will be the refurbishing and relocation of the iconic dinky train, which is currently stationed on the lawn area between the pool and coal mine hillside area.

“It’s very historic,” noted Baker. “It’s the last dinky train used in Crab Orchard at Crab Orchard Coal. It’s an iconic landmark here.”

Park workers plan to move the dinky train to the entrance of the park at the Youth Museum, said Baker.

Officials have plans to renovate additional parks in the city in the future, she added.

Additional public parks are Jim Word Memorial Park, East Park, Freedom Skate Park and Maxwell Hill and the city’s “pocket parks,” located on Glen Avenue, Temple Street, Barber Avenue, Scott Avenue, Simpkins Street, Ridge Avenue and the Ewart Avenue Tennis Center.

Baker added that the Beckley Exhibition Coal Mine is currently offering postcards with a $5 off coupon for any Theatre West Virginia performance.

— E-mail: jfarrish@register-herald.com

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