River Town Program Option for Fairmont

Assists in developing outdoor recreation as economic-growth tool

Times West Virginian
31 October 2013
By Debra Minor Wilson

FAIRMONT — Imagine towns along the Monongahela River connecting to promote their unique outdoor recreation opportunities. Fairmont has that chance, if it joins Morgantown, Granville and Star City in the West Virginia River Town Program. Begun in Pennsylvania, the River Town Program is based on a cooperative, collaborative approach that builds closer connections between communities and their riverfronts as a significant asset with the potential for attracting visitors, business and economic revival. Dr. Steve Selin, state director and professor of Recreation, Parks and Tourism Resources, Division of Forestry and Natural Resources, gave a PowerPoint presentation on the program to the Marion County Commission at its weekly meeting Wednesday. This program, begun in Pennsylvania, is an asset-based community-development initiative that assists towns along navigable rivers to develop outdoor recreation as an alternative way of economic growth. “It begins here,” said commission President Randy Elliott, referring to Marion County as the birthplace of the Mon, at the confluence of the Tygart and West Fork rivers. With the cost underwritten by the Claude Worthington Benedum Foundation, there is no cost to the program, “other than the interest and willingness to ... work together,” Selin said. The program began in Pennsylvania as a regional economic-development program geared to building a stronger connection between the river and its communities by promoting the river as a recreational and economical asset. Fairmont “is a good fit” with the regional program, he said. The goal is to attract visitors, assist new business opportunities, and take advantage of the Mon as an economic and outdoor recreation asset. Nearby Point Marion is among the five original River Town Mon River communities in Pennsylvania.

The program does not create new plans, he said. “We take existing plans and see how we can move them forward. We figure out where you are in terms of riverfront development and how we can work together.” After the community is assessed, action teams form and identify short-, mid- and long-term projects. The program unifies towns along the Mon to enhance their riverfront properties to attract visitors and make their communities more livable. Improving public access, enhancing visitor safety, growing riverside businesses, supporting public art and entertainment, and diversifying active outdoor recreation opportunities are shared goals driving this resurgence. Selin said the program is working with the Upper Mon River Association in support of keeping the locks open between Fairmont and Morgantown. “This is a significant issue,” he said. But by working together, rather than one by one, River Towns have a better chance of influencing the Army Corps of Engineers into keeping the locks open, he noted. Elliott liked this aspect. “I understand the loss of industrial traffic that used the locks,” he said, “but we can replace that with a lot of people in Bass Master Classics, maybe a tournament every week.” The next step is for the commission to decide if it wants to hook up with the program, Elliott said. “The next step is for us to look at all it has to offer, to see if we want to join forces with them to help us plan and promote,” he said. He said once that’s done, the program needs to be put on the commission’s agenda for a vote. “It brings positive exposure in the outlying areas that we are developing our riverfront,” Elliott said. “When riverfront people come through this way, they’ll know we have (development), stop and enjoy what we’re putting together. “This can only help us attract more people to Fairmont and Marion County.” The commission will meet in regular session at 10 a.m. Wednesday, Nov. 6, in Room 403, J. Harper Meredith Building, Fairmont.

Email Debra Minor Wilson at dwilson@timeswv.com.