BUCKHANNON – For more than a year, a piece of county property has served as a sporting venue for youth for countless hours.
Now, the nonprofit organization behind the myriad improvements that have been made to the Upshur County Wellness Complex is hoping to enhance what’s already being offered.
On Thursday, Kevin Nicholson, president of the Upshur County Youth Soccer Association, stopped by the Upshur County Commission meeting with an update on the Wellness Complex property, which was leased to the UCYSA roughly 14 months ago.
When UCYSA initially began developing the property for soccer matches, the land was in bad shape with brush waist high from corner to corner.
“Our volunteers put in over a thousand man hours in the initial clearing of the property. Brush was cut, raked and pushed to the edges,” Nicholson said. “Our volunteers brought their own personal lawn tractors in and mowed the grass three additional times to get it to a level that was playable.”
Two full days were spent laying out the fields, painting lines and putting goals in place. Roughly three weeks after signing the lease, the nonprofit began hosting its first games on the property.
“For the first time in many years, the children of Upshur County were utilizing property that had not been available before,” he said. “My simple promise to the commission when we asked for the lease was that we would maintain, improve and use the resource we had been granted. We fulfilled our promise.”
Nicholson noted that a formal sign recognizing the property as the Upshur County Wellness Complex had been installed.
“We wanted to do this as a symbolic gesture of our commitment to Upshur County,” he added.
Progress continues each week as volunteers dedicate hours to maintaining and improving the property.
And as enhancement of the fields progresses, kids’ use of the field expands accordingly.
“Our players utilize these fields seven days a week,” Nicholson said. “On any evening, you can drive out and see 100 or more players, parents and spectators playing on this ground.”
Unfortunately, some setbacks have occurred.
“They have been many obstacles along the way from vandalism to Mother Nature in the form of the wettest fall we have ever experienced, but we have persevered,” Nicholson said.
Aside from a progress report of the property, Nicholson discussed continuing efforts to develop the space – and how the county could take part in that process.
“My board and I have long-term and short-term goals for this property,” he said. “We do not merely want to develop this property just for soccer, but for the county as a whole.”
As for short-term goals, UCYSA is hoping to offer better parking for individuals. Nicholson said he’s been quoted a cost of around $12,000 to apply rock from the current parking lot all the way down to the sign.
This will provide the amount of parking needed to accommodate all the people on the property at any given time. The cost would also include a small piece of culvert pipe to provide for a second entrance and exit.
“I am requesting funds from the county in whatever amount it may be able to contribute,” he said. “We are able to contribute approximately half the cost – $6,000 – but would have to fundraise towards any remaining amount.”
Secondly, Nicholson said he hopes to develop a walking trail around the perimeter of the property, which would be available to anyone in the community at any time.
“The first step to this trail is finishing brush hogging and clearing the remaining part of the property,” he said. “We have so far been unable to secure anyone with the equipment to do this. We are willing to contribute to help defray the costs to anyone who may be able to do this job.”
A long-term goal is to fix drainage issues on the south end of the property. Approximately four acres in that area are unusable because it does not drain properly.
Nicholson said the Wellness Complex has commissioned through the county an aerial elevation mapping of the property, and Shawn Tucker, treasurer, was pursuing an abatement plan. However, due to changes in Tucker’s health, the plan has yet to be completed.
“We are looking for suggestions and resources to put this plan together for the long term. There will be significant input needs once a plan is developed,” Nicholson said. “We will need assistance in gathering the needed permits and finding the labor necessary for what will be a very large undertaking.”
Once this phase begins, Nicholson said the soccer board will need the county’s assistance in providing utilities. Sewer service should be available as well as power from the main road, which would be included in a comprehensive plan, he added.
Before concluding his presentation, Nicholson emphasized the nonprofit operates solely on sponsorships, donations and fundraising.
“The registration fees we charge to participate (in the league) barely cover the actual costs of running the league – they do not afford us any funds to develop for the future,” he said.
This fall, Nicholson said UCYSA raised over $14,000 through sponsorships, a T-shirt fundraiser and a raffle. In addition, numerous other fundraisers are planned for the upcoming year.
“We have also developed a partnership with Dominion and the Atlantic Coast Pipeline,” Nicholson said. “They volunteered to repair damage from the vandalism and donated 100 pounds of grass seed to seed our playing areas which our volunteers accomplished last Sunday.”
He added Dominion, the primary owner and operator of the ACP, is looking to assist with fixing the property’s access road in the near future once permission is granted.
“We do not come before the commission looking for a handout; we come looking for a continued partnership in developing a complex not just for soccer, but for all the citizens of Upshur County,” Nicholson said.
He said the organization is seeking financial assistance from the commission.
Commissioners advised that the line item in the budget for the Wellness Complex property was roughly $4,700.
Nicholson asked commissioners if they’d be willing to donate the $4,700 to the cause.
Commissioner Troy A. “Buddy” Brady responded, “We might be willing to (donate) part of it. I wouldn’t have a problem with that. I always have a problem with taking everything.
“But with that being said,” he added, “I would like to personally thank you for the outstanding job and all the work you and your people [have put in] … because you have taken something and made something out of it, and I’m just glad to be a part of that, and thank you for what you have done.”
The commission didn’t pledge an exact amount they’d be willing to contribute toward enhancing the complex; however, Nicholson said he plans to follow up on his request and collaborate with county administrator Carrie Wallace.