MASON COUNTY — A committed band of volunteers has been hard at work for more than a year to restore a community-owned piece of land that will one day be Letart Nature Park.
The 272 acres of land adjoining the Letart Commuity Center, located on Sandhill Road about 12 miles outside of Point Pleasant, is steadily developing into what the Letart Nature Park Development Organization has named Letart Nature Park — a place the organization hopes will draw community members and visitors.
Nine of the acres surrounding the center have already been developed, complete with basketball courts and playground equipment, but the development organization’s members and volunteers are currently restoring the remaining 263 acres.
The land was previously owned by the county, which purchased the land in 1978 from a private farm and developed the nine acres, said the park’s development organization’s president, Marilyn Kearns.
“At the time, there were plans drawn up. The county had paid to have some pretty extensive plans drawn up and it (the plans) included things like bridle trails, hiking trails, camp sites, picnic areas, playground equipment and all kinds of things like that. But it didn’t happen because the funds were just not available,” she said. “Last spring, the county decided that they would try to sell the property — any properties, I guess, that had been undeveloped or without anything being done for a certain period of time. So, when we found that out, the community kind of pulled together. We went to the county commission and asked that we be given a chance to develop it on our own. They agreed last year that they would give us one year to see if we could make progress on it.”
Last week, the organization presented commissioners with what they had done so far and what they plan to do, which the commissioners approved.
“When the county purchased it, I guess we were all just kind of content that it was always going to be there,” Kearns said. “So we went from what had originally been planned for it and we kind of started going from there. We don’t have the funding to go back to the original plan and do all the things that were on it because they were very expensive things, but what we’re doing is working with what we’ve got now and we think we can develop it pretty good.”
So far, volunteers have spent weekend and evening hours with their own equipment clearing brush, mowing, removing piles of trash and stumps, and establishing walking trails. Kearns said many of the volunteers live near the area and have been involved with the project from the start.
On a normal work day, Kearns said about 18-22 people will show up. Volunteer service hours total approximately 1,408 hours so far, and an accumulated total estimate of cash donations, funds raised and volunteer service hour wage equivalents (based on conservative hourly compensation) is $42,857.74, according to the organizations secretary/treasurer Katrinka Hart.
The project gets more volunteers as time goes on, and aside from a Facebook page, word of mouth is the main way in which volunteers hear about the project.
“You know, in a small town, people talk. Everybody has friends that say, ‘Come on, why don’t you get involved too.’ So that’s basically how we’ve done it,” Kearns said. “There’s a lot of potential back there, and I think our community realizes that. The more we do, the more people get involved.”
Expenses for the project have been small, as the organization receives donations and volunteer work. Kearns said individuals have given substantial donations, as well as Letart Asbury Church, Oak Grove Church, Woodmen of the World Insurance and AEP.
Additionally, AEP donated materials to be used for culverts, and awarded the organization with a grant for $300 to purchase lumber to use for bird habitats and park benches. Kearns said the organization also plans to apply for grants.
The West Virginia National Guard has also surveyed the land and provided plans for hiking trails, upgrading the main road to the area and a flat, grassy area for parking. The Guard is also helping the organization with a drainage problem on the land.
Kearns said Boy Scout troops have shown a lot of interest in the park, and that the organization hopes that schools and 4-H groups could utilize the park as well.
Specifically, future plans for the park include developing an edible trail in which native plants such as blackberries will be featured; revitalizing a small pond for fishing; establishing hiking trails; constructing informational signs and kiosks with map of the park and trails; bird houses; primitive camping sites; and possibly even an amphitheatre.
“I think there’s just endless possibilities, and some of them are probably not feasible, but right now we’re just considering everything,” Kearns said. “This community really pulls together for this, and I think that’s an advantage we have over a lot of areas. I don’t think you always get the ongoing support that we’ve had here for years.”
For more information about volunteering and donations, contact Marilyn Kearns, president, at (304) 895-3041; Katrinka Hart, secretary/treasurer, at (740) 446-3108; and Samuel (Butch) Boston, vice president, at (304) 895- 3444.
“They don’t make land like this anymore,” Hart said. “Living in the country, I think we take it for granted.”