Calhoun County Park missed the opportunity of being West Virginia's first official Dark Skies Park with the naming of Watoga State Park as a destination for amateur astronomers.

Calhoun commissioners Helmick and Westfall and Calhoun Parks officers
attend $240,000 award in Nov. 2017 at Gov. Justice's announcement of grants

By Bob Weaver

UPDATE 3/9/2019 - A $240,000 grant announced for Calhoun County and the Calhoun Park Dark Skies Project in November, 2017 has apparently been rescinded after the grant was issued at a public ceremony in Charleston.

That money has not been received by the county 16 months later, nor will state and Appalachian Regional Commission [ARC] officials respond to numerous requests by the Calhoun Commission and multiple public information requests by the Hur Herald, including Freedom of Information requests.

Calhoun commissioners Scottie "Chip" Westfall and Kevin Helmick, accompanied by Calhoun Park volunteer officers were presented the award in Gov. Jim Justice's office.

Whether any other ARC grants were cut has yet to be been obtained.

The Calhoun Park is now in debt to a consulting company for several thousand dollars related to the project.

The project has been a 20 year effort to get it off the ground.

Fred Rader, Community Development Director for the Mid-Ohio Valley Regional Council said, "In 35 years doing this job this is the first time I have run into this with an ARC project."

"To date the Federal Co-Chair for ARC has declined to approve the project. indicating he thinks it does not lead to job creation, so doesn't think it is a good investment."

At ARC's request a component for an economic impact study was added and additional match dollars found. "Apparently that wasn't good enough. Very frustrating," said Rader.

The county came up with $60,000 in matching money from different groups and businesses (See earlier story below).

Calhoun Commission president Kevin Helmick said he is yet to receive an explanation.

President Donald Trump's budget in 2017 called for huge reductions in government spending. Beyond simply handing some agencies and programs less money to work with, he wanted to completely eliminate 78 programs —  including the Appalachian Regional Commission.

President Trump apparently changed his mind after appointing a new ARC co-chair, not eliminating the ARC, after $16 million in grants to restore the coal industry, that money was granted in seven coal states.


UPDATE 3/7/2019 - It's a mystery. Where's the money?

The Appalachian Regional Commission did not respond to a Hur Herald request related to Calhoun County and the Calhoun County Park not receiving a 2017 $240,000 grant for the Dark Skies Project.

The Hur Herald has now issued a Freedom of Information request with the ARC, asking them to provide documentation regarding what happened with the funding.

The Herald has also issued a public information request to Gov. Jim Justice, who was the check presenter in 2017.


By Bob Weaver

UPDATE 3/1/2019 - Where's the money?

A $240,000 grant from the Appalachian Regional Commission given to Calhoun County for the county parks Dark Skies Project in late 2017 has yet to be received.

Local matching funds were put together to make the grant possible, the first significant financing after years of work to move the project ahead.

Park Board President Donnie Pitts says, "We're still waiting on any word on the ARC grant, we are really in the dark."

County Commissioner Chip Westfall said local officials went to the award ceremony in Charleston, but no money has been forthcoming, nor any explanation.

Westfall said the commission has reached out to US senators to find out what happened.

"Locally, money was raised to meet the match," he said.

Pitts said the park is planning four fund raising activities this year for young and old.

"We have decided to move forward on construction of an amphitheater for the park so we are exploring different ways of raising funds for that project," Pitts said.

He said of the star gazing project is on hold waiting for word from the ARC.

The park is exploring a Frisbee golf course, an up and coming activity these days that doesn't require a lot of investment dollars.

The Herald has issued a pubic information request with the ARC to explain the hold-up.


Messier/M45 (Submitted by: late astronomer Dave Miller) Wed.
Jan. 9 09:30:01 2008, Calhoun County Park WV), Messier M45
is also known as the Pleiades star cluster and The Seven
Sisters, the cluster about 425 Light years away in the
Constellation Taurus, its age is around 100 Million years old

UPDATE - Calhoun Banks has donated $5,000 to Calhoun Parks to develop a $300,000 project involving restrooms, showers and other amenities for the Dark Skies Astronomy program, which will also be utilized by visitors, according to chairman Donnie Pitts.

By Bob Weaver

ORIGINAL STORY 1/10/2018 - The scope of a new $300,000 project for the Calhoun Park is to construct an ADA compliant restrooms and shower house, and will probably also contain a laundry, according to park board chairman Donnie Pitts.

"We are very excited about the potential we have at the park for Calhoun County, one step at a time," said Pitts.

Scope of the current project for the park is to construct an ADA compliant restroom/shower house that probably will also contain a laundry.

"The project will also include all related utilities and parking area. The intent for this facility to serve the general park population, campground and dedicated star gazing area," Pitts said.

The total cost of the project is estimated to be $300,000, of which $60,000 is local match and $240,000 is an Appalachian Regional Commission grant.

Pitts said along with project, the park is exploring the possibility of constructing some rental cabins.

There are additional plans for star gazing, but the lack of broadband will be required to make them happen.

Luke Peters of the Mid-Ohio Valley Regional Council released a list of local funding partners ($60,000) for the project:

TransCanada grant to Calhoun County Commission $12,500; Parkersburg Area Community Foundation $7,500; Dominion Foundation $15,000; Private Local Contribution $5,000; West Virginia Community Advancement and Development Partnership $20,000.

Peters said the structure and accompanying septic tank improvements will offer much improved shower and restroom options to support the RV's, and an expansion of cabins, tent camping facilities, potentially yurts or teepees, as well as a growing number of day-use visitors.

The timeline for the construction period approval is in early 2018.