WILLIAMSON – The Mingo County Commission provided an update concerning the future of Laurel Lake after being questioned on the matter during the public comment portion of Tuesday’s meeting.
Several months ago, the state announced that recreational activities at four parks would be cut due to budget restraints with Laurel Lake being one of the four. The result of this decision would be the closure of the public swimming pool and shelters at Laurel Lake.
“I would like to ask a question,” stated Teresa McCune during public comment. “Is there an update in the commission’s involvement with the Laurel Lake situation?” McCune questioned.
“Absolutely,” stated Commissioner Greg “Hootie” Smith. Smith explained that the commission had met last Monday with several W.Va. senators as well as directors from the West Virginia Division of Natural Resources (DNR) and the Director of Wildlife to discuss Laurel Lake.
“With regards to the discussions of the closure of the pool and the shelter area with Laurel Lake; we had a very straight forward conversation with them regarding that. We individually, because a commission cannot act outside of a meeting, but each of us have stated our individual position that we do not want to see that closed. We believe that Laurel Lake is a great asset for Mingo County,” Smith said.
Smith explained that a plan is in the works that would allow the pool and shelter areas of Laurel Lake to remain open. “We believe and we have a plan that can spur economic development in the Laurel Lake vicinity. We believe that plan can generate monies to make that portion of the lake, hopefully, self-sustaining. We shared that vision with those representatives and we asked for their support in regards to that plan,” Smith stated.
Currently, Cotiga Development Company owns the property where the Laurel Lake pool and shelters are located. According to Smith, the commission hopes to sublease that property and work in conjunction with non- profit organizations and 4-H to make that area self- sustaining. “That portion of the property is owned by Cotiga, the land company. It is on a 99 year lease with the state. The proposal and the vision that the commission proposed would be that the commission sublease that and take responsibility for that property. We would then work with the Laurel Lake Foundation and Dr. Hall’s nonprofit group as well as Mingo County 4-H. We would keep the pool in operation. We would keep the use of shelters in operation. Hopefully, through our workforce and the assistance of the volunteers through the nonprofit, we could continue to operate that. The vision would be to provide a 4-H camp and lodging in that area with a lodge and some cabins,” Smith explained.
Smith further explained the involvement with 4-H stating, “Currently, we bus our children to Cabell County as well as many other counties. Mark Whitt has commitments from many other counties that would bring those children here to Mingo County for their week of 4-H camp.”
The commission also hopes to incorporate the Hatfield and McCoy Trails into the future of Laurel Lake. “We are also in discussion with Mr. Lusk and George Poole of trying to connect the trail system to that,” Smith stated.
Smith also explained that state funding is needed to make the plan a reality. “We shared our vision with them and we asked for their assistance on a financial level at a phase in type of proposal where they give a contribution to help with the operating cost for a period of three years,” Smith said.
A decision is expected by the end of March. “They were going to take that back to their foundation and they are supposed to give us a decision this month. We can then place their proposal on the agenda at this county commission and vote on whether or not to take action,” Smith stated. “It was a very positive meeting. Hopefully, we will have their response this month,” Smith concluded.
Commissioner Diann Hannah added, “The state does not have a plan so if our plan doesn’t get approved; there is no plan. They will shut it down.”
Hannah also explained that Cotiga’s agreement was important to the continuation of this plan. “It is up to Cotiga to go along with what Mark Whitt’s 4-H club plans to do on it. It is still going to be their property. The DNR has to say yes we will do this with what is left on their portion and Cotiga has to say it is okay for them to do this on what belongs to us,” Hannah stated.
Originally, the county had planned to create a 4-H camp in Gilbert but now hopes to use seed money already in place to move the project to the Laurel Lake location. “There was seed money invested in the county for that proposal and that interested them that we already have seed money and had a plan that we would like to see moved to this asset. You already have a pool, you already have nature tracks. It is all already right there,” Smith explained.
More information on 4-H can be found at www.4-h.org
(Courtney Pigman is a news reporter for the Williamson Daily News. She can be contacted at [email protected], or at 304-235-4242 ext. 2279.)