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Extra acres tie Valley Park to county's rural roots

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- More than 20 years ago, family farms dotted the landscape of Teays Valley in Putnam County.

When one of the few remaining farms in the area was to be sold a couple of years ago, Scott Williamson, director of Putnam County Parks and Recreation, saw the opportunity to create a place for visitors to Hurricane's Valley Park where they could experience the rural roots of the county.

"I remember that this area used to be cow pastures and farms everywhere," Williamson said. "We wanted to keep it along the farm theme so that generations from now when people come here, they can see what Teays Valley was."

The land abutted the existing park and was eligible to become a Tax Increment Financing district, so the County Commission and the county parks and recreation board began the process of buying the land and developing it.

Two years and more than $2.25 million later, the 5.5 acres features a renovated metal barn and "one-room schoolhouse" picnic area, as well as outdoor public areas and an entryway to the park clearly visible from Teays Valley Road.

"It's the most popular park in the county and the most used, so any time we can add property to it and add offerings to the public, we'll do that," Williamson said. "We didn't want to turn it strictly into baseball fields, soccer fields -- that kind of thing. We wanted people to be able to have access to passive recreation as well -- somewhere they could sit, meditate, read or just have a picnic and enjoy their families."

The project was funded almost entirely through TIF, which allows agencies to sell bonds to pay for projects with the understanding that increased tax revenues -- once the projects are built -- will be used to pay off the bonds.

"It was all paid for. It was a turnkey operation that didn't cost the taxpayers anything extra," Williamson said.

The new addition is part of Valley Park's nearly 70 acres of recreation area that features a wave pool, baseball fields, tennis courts, walking trails, a seasonal ice-skating rink, a miniature golf course, a dog park, stocked fishing ponds, playground equipment and an outdoor amphitheater.

"We like to view ourselves as a regional destination," said parks and recreation board President Patrick Donovan. "I think we are. If you do an inventory of license plates in our parking lot, you'll find we draw from the tri-state region. We want to try to continue to provide recreation for not just our county, but for the surrounding counties."

The addition, which is beside Teays Valley Road, has made the park easier to locate, and its second entrance has helped Valley Park operate more smoothly, according to Donovan.

"When you look at some of the events we host -- from Civil War Days to Fourth of July celebrations to high school cross country meets -- we're busy, and we really needed a second entrance in and out of the park," he said. "The new entrance will be critical to moving traffic through the park, as well as moving traffic up and down Teays Valley Road."

The addition to the park is currently open, and the Putnam County Commission plans to hold a ribbon cutting ceremony Tuesday at 1 p.m. at Valley Park to celebrate the park's expansion.

"A lot of people tend to think of Putnam County as the suburban area between Charleston and Huntington," Donovan said. "The county is truly based in farming. We wanted to preserve that historical connotation that Putnam County has, and that's part of the charm of living in our county."

Reach Lydia Nuzum at lydia.nuzum@wvgazette.com or 304-348-5100.


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