Op-ed: Resident urges community leaders to collaborate on county recreational facility project

Editor’s note: The following editorial column was submitted to My Buckhannon for publication by Mitchell Shaw.

By Mitchell Shaw

If you’ve grown up in Buckhannon or even lived here for any extended period, you know that we Buckhannon natives are a proud bunch. Many might even say we are proud to a fault. This premise is why I decided to write this piece.

For those who do not know who I am, my name is Mitchell Shaw. I was born here in 1985 and attended all my 18 years of primary and secondary schooling in the county before moving to Morgantown and attending WVU. During my college years, I decided to join the Army National Guard, where I climbed the ranks to Major in my 17+ years serving.

I moved back to Buckhannon in 2016 along with my wife, Darissa, who is also a Buckhannon native, to raise our family in a place we felt was safe, comfortable, and, hopefully, trending toward a solid future. I work as a federal civilian for the WV National Guard at the United States Property & Fiscal Office here in our lovely town.

I say all that to say this: I have been a part of a team – the National Guard – for nearly the entirety of my adult life, so I see the importance of working together to achieve goals and missions that are crucial to the success of the greater good. I am writing as a concerned citizen because I know our community has an opportunity to build an amazing recreation complex here and it feels like too few of the key players are interested in collaborating to make sure this potentially amazing community asset is successful.

In the fall of 2022, the family of the late John Allen of J.F. Allen donated an extremely valuable and coveted piece of property along Corridor H to the Upshur County Commission. The Commission’s intent is to build a recreation complex on this property. They are deep into the planning stages with the engineering firm selected to design the project, Civil & Environmental Consultants or CEC.

Now, almost everyone in the community is aware of Stockert Youth and Community Center and their mission. They have been working diligently for many years to build a new gymnasium to provide more space to make their programs stronger. They are a dedicated and passionate group who are nearing the final phases of solidifying building plans for their new structure that will go right next to the old East Main School building.

Stockert operates under the supervision of the City of Buckhannon. The recreation complex on Corridor H would operate under the supervision of the Upshur County Commission. Upshur County and West Virginia as a whole have an aging community and a declining population. Our donor base is not exactly robust. Knowing that the missions of these two organizations are certainly parallel in thinking would suggest that a unification of efforts would make the most sense in order to provide our community with the absolute best product possible.

This brings us to my overall point: the City of Buckhannon, the Stockert Youth and Community Center Board, City Council, Upshur County Commissioners, business leaders/owners, and nonprofit organizations all need to realize that we have one true opportunity to get this right. Therefore, we need to quit working against one another and start rowing our boats in the same direction. No, we need to start rowing one boat because this community is together, and if we do not work together, we will continue to remain stagnant.

A full-scale recreation complex with gymnasiums – yes, plural – and athletic fields, workout spaces, meeting rooms, walking trails, and a plethora of other possibilities would be a financial boon for our little town. It would bring visitors to our community at a higher rate, creating a need for more restaurants, more hotels & motels, more gas stations, etc., all of which generate a need for more jobs. The kind of complex I am referring to would function as a significant economic stimulus in Upshur County and the surrounding areas.

I understand that some other ideas have been around longer, and some organizations have been working on their goals and pouring blood, sweat and tears into growing what they have. However, I would urge those individuals to put their pride aside for the greater good of the long-term growth and sustainability of this town we all love. Yes, we are a proud bunch, so let’s all strive for something attainable, something great, something bigger than we ever thought possible before now. Through the wonderful gratitude of one family, it truly is possible to have a comprehensive recreation complex for the entire community.

I want to close by stating that I am the president of the Upshur County Recreation Complex, which is not officially affiliated with Upshur County or the Commission. We are a nonprofit organization that has been striving for this goal officially since 2017. Our organization’s idea is not an original one. I left that part out of my introduction because we are not trying to say we should be running this ship; we are simply concerned that if we do not start working together as a full community of leaders and members, we will never see this dream achieved.

In the coming weeks and months, there will be meetings about future plans. The City of Buckhannon is holding a meeting on September 13th at Stockert Youth and Community Center at 6 p.m. You can attend weekly County Commission meetings held on Thursdays starting at 9 a.m. in the Commission Meeting Room located on the third floor of the Upshur County Courthouse Annex or Buckhannon City Council meetings at 7 p.m. on the first and third Thursdays of the month in City Hall to express your opinions on the matter.

Please urge your neighbors, community leaders and friends to support a combined effort so that the generations after us have even more to build upon and our children and their grandchildren can continue to take pride in our little home among the hills.

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