National Park Service to host meeting regarding proposed demolition plan this week, Thurmond residents to present another option

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THURMOND, W.Va. — Residents of one historical community in Fayette County plan to present some more options during an upcoming meeting regarding the National Park Service’s proposal to tear down 35 deteriorating and excess buildings within the New River Gorge National Park and Preserve.

The NPS will host the meeting this Thursday, Jan. 11 at the Bank of Glen Jean in Mount Hope to discuss the proposed demolition of those structures within the historic town of Thurmond, WV, one of the nearly-abandoned coal communities occupying a sliver of the New River Gorge.

The proposal is part of a larger project in the works for the park known as the Great American Outdoors Act Legacy Restoration Fund.

The funding being provided through the legislation is meant to “rehabilitate historic structures, invest in park infrastructure, address deferred maintenance needs, and reduce unnecessary operational costs and maintenance burdens,” according to the National Park Service.

A total of 21 of the 35 buildings in the Town of Thurmond set to be torn down through the act are considered historic and are eligible for the National Register of Historic Places, with some already being listed as such.

Thurmond town recorder and treasurer, Chad McCune said the four residents which now make up the town feel as though they were given very little input on the matter when the acting superintendent at the time agreed to this potential proposal option.

McCune said the only other option beyond the structures’ potential demolition so far which the park service has on the table is to leave the structures’ subject to time without work or upkeep being put into them. However, he said all of the residents plan to propose a third option at Thursday’s meeting to re-establish a concession agreement with the park service allowing town residents or an outside party willing to take over the yearly maintenance of the structures to do so.

“We want Town to have a voice and say, ‘hey, have you considered that you’re, you know, demolishing these structures and you’re taking away not only a part of history, but also the promise you had made,” said McCune.

McCune said some kind of a concession agreement focused on preserving and protecting all of the structures in Thurmond was established between town residents and the park service around 40 years ago when NPS started buying up the properties there.

He said they had agreed to fully preserve Thurmond as a living, working steam-train town so any visitors to the area could see what it was like in the early period of the 20th century up until the 1950s, when the historic town was booming. He feels it’s especially important to preserve these structures now more than ever with the re-designation of the New River Gorge National Park and greater visitor uptick.

McCune said while the park service now owns 90-percent of the town and its surrounding properties, residents there are already very limited with their say on what is to become the historic town, but he said they hope the park service can hear them out and work with them on that original promise of preserving every aspect of the former coal community.

“We would like to see them preserve and protect, but they’re actually wanting to take away some of the stuff and basically clean their hands of it,” he said.

McCune said while some of the buildings on the proposed list of those to be removed are just falling-down sheds with no historical value, others are homes that have been in resident’s families for over 40 years.

However, National Park Service Chief of Interpretation and Visitor Services Eve West said they are still in the very early stages of planning for this proposed project and they are more than ready to hear from the community first before making any decisions.

West said the focus is not just on removing some structures, however, but a big part of the project is about preserving some, as well.

“You know, in addition to removing excess structures, the proposal includes stabilizing and improving some of the structures at Thurmond, including Commercial Row, the houses that are along Commercial Row, and we’ve got other historic structures that are behind Commercial Row like the McClung House, the McGuffin House, the fabulous Lipscomb House, so those are structures we’re actually going to be putting money into,” West said.

West added that for the registered historical structures part of the proposal to be removed, the plan is to preserve their history in various other ways through documentation and educational opportunities.

“Where we can, the foundations will remain intact so the footprint of the structures can be preserved,” she said. “They will have outdoor exhibits, and we are also actually looking at a smart phone application using some of the latest technology, something like augmented reality for instance, so the history can be preserved and the story can still be told.”

However, McCune said residents just want to open the park service’s eyes that there are still some public interest being invested in protecting the structures themselves.

“We want to give town and some of the public an opportunity to be able to revitalize these places and save them, and not look at demolishing them as the best alternative, but to actually preserve them and make them last, and kind of keep town going, and to breathe a little new life back into town if possible,” said McCune.

West said Thursday’s meeting will be an open-forum type of panel that will give the public the option to provide comment, and park service officials will be on hand to answer questions and provide information on the proposed project.

She said they will then compile the comments and develop an environmental impact draft of the proposal.

West said another open comment period will be set sometime before their goal of implementing the demolitions as early as fall of 2024.

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