Leslie Gray Baker, Director of Parks and Recreation, opened the doors to the 2021 season at the Beckley Exhibition Coal Mine and the Youth Museum on Tuesday.
“We are excited to be beginning our 59th season here at the Mine,” Baker said. "Last year we were only able to open for a few short months – this year we are back on scheduled but with shorten hours of operation.”
The continuing pandemic has reduced the number of requests for spring school tours. As such, Baker decided to open the complex Tuesdays through Saturdays, from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.
“We will review our status in June and may decide to open 7 days a week then, depending how our business increases,” Baker said.
What started out as just a short underground tour at the Exhibition Coal Mine has evolved into a cultural journey back into early West Virginia mining history. Now visitors can tour the underground coal mine, as well as visit the restored buildings of the Coal Camp, the Rahall Company Store and Museum, the Youth Museum of Southern West Virginia and The Mountain Homestead – a pioneer village.
Listed on many travel websites as a destination not to be missed, the Exhibition Coal Mine hosts about 48,000 visitors a year. Baker has the complex staffed with about 17 people, a dozen at the coal mine and five more at the museum. Most workers are senior citizens.
“Our visitors come from all over,” Baker said. "Usually in the spring and fall we have hundreds of school children that come on field trips and then during the summer months we see mostly tourist from out-of-state.”
In preparation for their opening, the Mine Gift Shop is fully stocked with coal figurines, t-shirts and sweatshirts, West Virginia crafts, freshly made fudge, and other souvenirs.
The Youth Museum, which stays open year round, is currently hosting the exhibition, Thomas & Friends: Explore the Rails.
“I think everyone will agree that this is an amazing exhibit,” Baker said. "There is so much to learn and so many hands-on components. The Main Gallery really looks like the train yard on Sodor Island, sound effects and all”.
Thomas & Friends: Explore the Rails is funded in part by the West Virginia Commission on the Arts.
The Exhibition Coal Mine and the Youth Museum are located in the New River Park.
It’s always 58 degrees underground so wearing a light jacket is advised. For more information on rates and tours check the website at www.beckley.org and click on the Exhibition Coal Mine or the Youth Museum link or call 304-256-1747.