BOONE COUNTY — “If you build it, they will come.” That’s a familiar mantra from the classic baseball movie, “Field of Dreams.”
It turns out, in Boone County, they will help maintain it, too.
Less than one year ago, Boone County’s elected officials expressed concern regarding the financial health of county parks, but recent efforts to find a way to maintain them — at a time when money belts have been even further tightened — have been successful.
The difference this time is, communities and individuals are stepping up to take ownership and pride in their parks in an effort to keep them open, taking some of the burden off of the county.
“I feel that we are on solid ground right now regarding our parks,” said Boone County Commissioner Brett Kuhn. “Our hope is that our communities will continue to embrace our parks and help us find creative solutions to what have been challenging problems.”
In the fall of 2019, the CVN reported that, due to budget cuts within the offices of elected officials, Boone County was actively entertaining the sale of Lick Creek Park in Danville and perhaps others.
Negotiations began with Boone County Schools — which use the park for WVSSAC sanctioned softball games for Scott High School — and with the Town of Danville, which showed public interest.
Boone County Parks and Recreation’s primary source of revenue has been cut in 2020, as the Water Ways water park will not open in the face of COVID-19 pandemic concerns.
Proactively, Director Russell Thomas and board member Kevin Graley have spearheaded an effort to generate some revenue and provide a service to the community via “movie nights” — the first of which hosted about 75 patrons on July 7.
The initiative plans to move the location of each showing around the county using park facilities while observing social distancing measures — much like a traditional drive-in theater. Those dates can be found on the parks and recreation Facebook page.
At Van, an agreement has been made to keep a roadside park active for the community.
In 1977, a group of employees approached Bethlehem Steel about leasing the property the park is on today. The employees developed the property, and, in 1978, they approached the Boone County Commission about the possibility of the county’s parks and recreation department taking it over and maintaining it for the community of Van.
For 41 years, the park has been maintained by the county, which has also paid for insurance coverage for the park. Van Volunteer Fire Chief Gary “Droop” Howell was instrumental in bringing all parties together to find a resolution. Howell organized stakeholders and attended commission meetings on behalf of his community.
“The park was never owned by parks and recreation or the Boone County Commission,” Kuhn said. “The coal company owned it and it (fell) to the Van Volunteer Fire Department. If the fire department had to go out and try to get the insurance, it would have broken them. The commission will maintain the insurance for the park under our umbrella of insurance. For the county, it is pennies on the dollar in comparison to what it would cost (the fire department).”
Commission President Eddie Hendricks signed a memorandum of understanding with the coal company ownership that expressed that while the county will provide the insurance coverage, the park will be maintained by a Pond Fork community action group comprised of citizens who came together to save the park.
Kuhn added that parks around Boone County are now on solid ground moving forward.
“Dartmont is in a similar situation,” he said. “Parks and Recreation will maintain the insurance and if someone wants to schedule time at Dartmont, they go through parks and rec. That community over there has stepped up to maintain the park. Van and the folks at Dartmont have really taken pride in their community and stepped up.”
Kuhn added, “The more of a stake that the community has, the more success stories you are going to see. Boone County has been hit hard and that is no secret. I think you are going to see our citizens rise and take care of their community.”
Kuhn said that John Slack Park (Racine), Water Ways and Lick Creek are among the larger parks in the county, but he sees community stakeholders stepping forward for the smaller parks.
“That is the trend that I think you will see moving forward beyond 2020,” he said. “For our smaller parks, this is the direction we want to go. I want to thank those who have worked with the county to make sure we can all benefit from our parks and maintain them.”