Upshur County Recreation Complex founding board member Keely Burnside addresses commissioners during a March 2 work session. / Photos by Monica Zalaznik

Nonprofit board approaches commission about potential collaboration on countywide recreation complex

BUCKHANNON – The Upshur County Commission hopes to finalize a master plan for a new recreational complex by July, and group that’s long been fundraising for a countywide youth and adult athletic complex wants to know how they will fit into that plan.

The Upshur County Commission invited interested community members to participate in a March 2 group working session to discuss the planned recreational complex.

Last fall, the commission acquired the roughly 70 acres located along the Old Weston Road across from the Red Rock Road intersection on which it intends to build an indoor-outdoor athletic complex from J.F. Allen Company. J.F. Allen bequeathed the land to the county commission in October 2022. Commissioners subsequently selected Civil & Environmental Consultants, Inc. to create a master plan for the future complex in February 2023.

Members of the nonprofit organization, the Upshur County Recreation Complex Board, attended the session to determine their role in forming and operating the future complex. Upshur County Recreation Complex founding board member Keely Burnside asked to say a few words at the beginning of the work session.

“I asked to speak because I have been a part of this from the board’s inception in the fall of 2016,” Burnside explained. “I was on the Upshur County Youth Baseball Board, and Shawn Tucker came speak to our board about his dream to have a complex to allow all sports to have the facilities they needed, specifically sports for kids. Shawn was part of the [Upshur County Youth Soccer Board], and they were struggling for fields, so he had this huge dream to have this complex where it was all in one place, and everybody could come – not only the adults but also the children — and have a safe environment to participate in the sports.”

The board was officially established in 2017 when they started fundraising.

“Unfortunately, Shawn got sick, and we thought this big man was going to survive — it’s going to be okay, he’d fight this good fight — but he didn’t, and it rocked us. We didn’t know if we should dissolve, we didn’t know what to do, but we decided we wanted to see this through, so we continued to work, and we continued to make that commitment,” Burnside said. “Then, unfortunately, COVID hit, and everything shut down.”

The Upshur County Recreation Complex Board has since hosted a series of fundraisers, including 5K Turkey Trots and the Upshur County Summer Basketball League, which it has organized and hosted for three years. Burnside said the group’s most challenging struggle has always been securing developable land, a prerequisite for securing many grants.

“Our biggest battle has always been that we need to have land to get these grants,” she said. “We know they’re out there.”

Burnside said they want to define their role as the project develops.

“We understand it’s very complex, but for us as an organization – as a nonprofit organization – fundraising is key, and we want to have transparency so we can understand where we fall in this and if we don’t have a place, that’s okay; we’ll figure out what we’re going to do,” Burnside said. “We don’t want to compete, but we are all volunteers with this, so we know what we’re going to be up against — not that it’s a fight, but we have to have clear transparency [as to whether] there is a place us, or if there’s no place for us.”

“I don’t know if we’ll decide that today, but that’s why we’re here,” she added.

Burnside suggested making their board a nonprofit branch of the county’s future recreational complex as a collaboration or dissolving their group entirely.

“I guess the next question is: could there be a collaboration with our nonprofit with your complex? Do you see that being a possibility? I know it’s still in the infancy stages, so I don’t know, do we continue?” she asked. “Or do we dissolve and donate to other youth sports? We don’t want to; I will say we’re not going to cut our nose off to spite our face when we can see that we can potentially work together. I don’t know the answers, but I know some grants we can get are huge because we’re nonprofit, that you can’t get as a county.”

Upshur County Commission President Kristie Tenney said the commission hopes for the board’s continued involvement in the project.

“We wanted you to have a seat at the table,” Tenney said. “That’s why Mitch (Shaw) was there for the interview process with CEC, and we are working on those negotiations. Hopefully not next week, but the following week, we can come to a conclusion on that,” Tenney said. “We want to have a small committee, and we’d like for you to have a seat at the table for that, where we would spitball ideas and see where this vision goes, have a couple of meetings and a public forum. We’d like to have a master plan out by summer — by July – and have a big thank-you to the Allen family.”

President of the Board of Directors for the Upshur County Recreation Complex Mitch Shaw said the nonprofit wants a definitive answer about what UCRC’s role could be in bringing the recreation complex to fruition and operating it so that the group can set a clear goal with their fundraising.

UCRC President Mitch Shaw

“Our whole thing is fundraising, and we’re trying to prepare for our next fundraiser, which is our big fundraiser – the summer basketball league,” Shaw said. “If we’re going to continue moving forward, are our efforts going to be applied toward what the county has going or are we completely separate? Is this collaborative, and can we all work together on one thing?”

Above all, he hopes the county will give youth sports a place to go, he said.

“One thing we really wanted to stress, and we’ve talked about with all the other youth boards, is that no matter what, this facility should and needs to be a home for youth sports for Upshur County,” Shaw said. “Youth soccer does not have good facilities; youth baseball needs some help, they’ve already pitched in $10,000 to build the field; youth football needs a place to practice because they’re always struggling with that; youth cheer needs space. This needs to be a home for youth sports, as well as a community center that can be profitable for the community as well.”

Upshur County Commissioner Sam Nolte said they could not decide about their collaboration after one meeting.

“I say you guys keep doing what you’re doing and let’s see how this thing develops over the next year because I agree it could be super helpful, but we don’t know yet,” Nolte said. “A nonprofit for the fundraising side of it could be huge for us. I think to give a definite answer today might be a little premature, and I think we just need to investigate how other people have done it.”

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