POINT PLEASANT — The rumor that Tu-Endie-Wei State Park is definitely being closed by the state is a rumor at this point but what is not a rumor, is the possibility of the park closing should the state be met with a major budget shortfall.
As reported earlier this week, the Charleston Gazette-Mail ran an article speaking about hypothetical budget cuts and how the state could absorb a “hypothetical 6.5 percent additional cut” in the 2016-17 budgets. The Gazette-Mail said this was based upon a request from House Finance Chairman Eric Nelson, R-Charleston, 35th District, for information from various state agencies which offered up possible fiscal solutions if they were faced with this hypothetical situation in the future.
One of the hypothetical remedies, according to the article, was to close or operate unstaffed, several state parks, including Tu-Endie-Wei.
Diane Johnson, who has been a long-time supporter of Battle Days, one of the parks premiere events, spoke to the Mason County Commission on Thursday during its regular meeting about the fate of the park with framed photos of Tu-Endie-Wei behind her as she made her presentation. She felt concerned the “hypothetical 6.5 percent additional cut” could be a reality as could the legislature acting upon some of the suggestions to balance the budget, specifically, closing or operating unstaffed, Tu-Endie-Wei.
Johnson presented an economic significance and impact study to Commissioners Tracy Doolittle, Rick Handley and Miles Epling from the West Virginia State Parks and Forests saying 29,600 people visited the park in a year and she estimated the Battle Days event had hosted educational days for 9,600 fourth-grade students from across the area over the years. She said according to the study, the park economically impacted the community in several ways, including visitor spending. In addition, Johnson said according to the same study, Blennerhassett Island Historical State Park had less visitors in a year than Tu-Endie-Wei but it wasn’t on the list for possible closure.
Johnson said if the state closed or operated the park unstaffed, this meant the grass would not be mowed, the facilities would not be maintained and items within the Mansion House, which are under the charge of the Daughters of the American Revolution, would have to be moved and stored elsewhere. In addition, this scenario presented a prime opportunity for vandalism at the park, as well as stripping away a place where people have gathered for marriages and other ceremonies and events, including the Point Pleasant Regatta to watch the fireworks. She also said this would negatively impact visitors to other attractions, like local museums and parks. Preserving the park would also be preserving a part of American history which is home to the remains of Chief Cornstalk, Anne Bailey and militiamen who are buried in the magazine, the latter of which are acknowledged by a wreath-laying ceremony each year to wrap up the Battle Days event.
Johnson also said the park supervisor was not there in a full-time capacity and she questioned just how much the state would actually save by abandoning Tu-Endie-Wei if that scenario came to pass.
Johnson said though the study was of hypothetical cuts, she wanted to be proactive and not take any chances should the hypothetical become reality during a budget crunch. Commissioners agreed and approved writing a resolution supporting the continuing operation of the park by the State of West Virginia. County Administrator John Gerlach was to draft the resolution which was to be sent to local legislators.
Reach Beth Sergent at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @BSergentWrites.