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Charleston murder trial begins Thursday with jury selection

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Jury selection begins Thursday morning in Kanawha County Circuit Court in the murder trial of a Detroit man.

Tyran Gray (WVRJA)

Tyran Gray, 27, is accused of shooting and killing 49-year-old Norman Sweeney in the 500 block of Wyoming Street in Charleston on Sept. 9, 2022. Gray was later captured in Detroit.

Gray was originally charged along with Cortini Ann Stovall, who authorities said was driving the car that sped away from the shooting scene. Stovall pleaded guilty to a lesser charge of accessory after the fact of first-degree murder. Stovall told the court she took Gray to another home after the shooting and was paid $600 to take Gray to Detroit.

Previously could filings said police recovered messages from a phone that said Gray believed Sweeney and some “dope feins” stole a package.

Jury selection is scheduled to begin at 8:30 a.m. Thursday. Opening statements in the case are tentatively scheduled to begin Friday morning.

Court records indicate Gray rejected a plea deal earlier this week.

Kanawha County Circuit Judge Carrie Webster said in a March pretrial hearing the trial could last more than a week.

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West Virginia’s childcare desert

A Talkline listener texted me this week about their problems with childcare. They work so they need childcare, which is their largest single monthly expense. But if they quit work to take care of their children, they wouldn’t be able to pay their other bills.

That is a common conundrum, and it is from someone who has childcare which, unfortunately, is a luxury in West Virginia.

According to Kristy Ritz, executive director for the West Virginia Association for Young Children, “41 percent of children under the age of six cannot access childcare. Sixty-four percent of West Virginians live in a childcare desert and West Virginia ranks 50th in accessibility of childcare.”

This is a hardship for families, but it is also a detriment to West Virginia’s economic growth. Business and labor both agree the state needs to help.

“Affordable and accessible childcare is critical not only to a healthy workforce and families, but also to the state’s overall economy,” said state AFL-CIO President Josh Sword. “The most effective way to ensure working people remain in the workforce is to allow parents affordable access to childcare.”

West Virginia Chamber of Commerce Vice President Brian Dayton concurs. “Childcare is one of the largest components of West Virginia’s low workforce participation rate,” Dayton said. “Addressing this issue in a meaningful way is pro-family and will help provide more opportunities in West Virginia.”

So, what can the state do?

Governor Justice, during his State of the State address back in January, called on lawmakers to pass a childcare tax credit, saying West Virginians “need this and need this badly right now.” House Speaker Roger Hanshaw said childcare was one of his top priorities heading into the regular session.

But nothing happened.

Now Ritz is hoping the Governor will put the issue on an expected special session in May, and her organization is gathering petition signatures to help drive home the point with Justice and lawmakers.

Ritz says the top priority is for continued funding of subsidies to childcare providers based on enrollment rather than attendance. That guarantees a higher and more consistent payment since attendance fluctuates.

That subsidy was added during Covid using emergency funds, but it is due to expire at the end of August. Ritz said without that subsidy, many childcare programs will cut services or even be forced to close.

Other options include tax credits for parents who use childcare and expansion of an existing tax credit to include small businesses if they offer childcare services. Speaker Hanshaw is interested in the Kentucky program that makes childcare employees eligible for free care* for their children. That helped meet the demand for childcare workers.

Dependable and affordable childcare is a necessity. Governor Justice and the Legislature cannot let another opportunity pass to address the issue for the good of families, the childcare centers and the state’s economy.

*(The childcare is free for the parent/employee, but the state pays the enrollment fee to childcare center.)

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Five are sentenced for running drug operation throughout Eastern Panhandle

PHILADELPHIA, Pa. — Five people received their sentence this week for distributing fentanyl across the state’s Eastern Panhandle.

Christopher Arthur Jones, 39, also known as “Smooth,” of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, was sentenced to 300 months in prison and 15 years of supervised release for racketeering enterprise (RICO) conspiracy and fentanyl distribution charges. Jones was the leader of the drug distribution organization that was based in Philadelphia.

Jones would direct members of the enterprise to sell drugs, launder money, and commit fraud in Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Maryland, and Delaware. Jones had drug houses in various sites including one in Martinsburg, West Virginia.

Michael Nicholas Calder, also known as “Ice,” 37, of Martinsburg, was sentenced to 85 months in prison and 3 years of supervised release for distributing fentanyl and cocaine. According to statements made in court, fentanyl pills, cocaine, and eutylone were found in Calder’s vehicle during a traffic stop.

Noah Izreel Neverdon, 21, of Parkville, Maryland, was sentenced to 70 months in prison and 3 years of supervised release for conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute and to distribute heroin and fentanyl. Court documents show that Neverdon sold fentanyl as a part of a drug operation that spanned from Baltimore to West Virginia.

Dylan Moyers, 24, of Romney, West Virginia, was sentenced to 41 months in prison and 3 years of supervised release for his role in a drug conspiracy, selling heroin and fentanyl in Hampshire and Mineral Counties. According to court documents, Moyers’ home was used as a hub for selling heroin and fentanyl.

Russell Guy Fitzgerald, 61, also known as “Rusty,” of Rawlings, Maryland, was sentenced to 30 months in prison and three years of supervised release for conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute and to distribute fentanyl. Court documents say Fitzgerald was selling fentanyl from his Maryland home and from a home in Mineral County, West Virginia. Fentanyl capsules, methamphetamine, cocaine, and 20 firearms were seized all together from both locations.

Multiple different agencies were involved in the investigations including the Federal Bureau of Investigation; the Department of Homeland Security Investigations; the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives; the U.S. Marshals Service; West Virginia State Police; the Eastern Panhandle Drug & Violent Crimes Task Force; the Potomac Highlands Drug Task Force; and the West Virginia Air National Guard.

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Milik holds Wheeling Park in check, keys Morgantown to 8-1 win

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — Morgantown’s Tristan Milik was in a groove early into his start Wednesday night against Wheeling Park.

The right-hander maintained it throughout an impressive outing in which he limited the Class AAA No. 10 Patriots to four hits over seven innings to lead the No. 4 Mohigans to an 8-1 victory at Dale Miller Field.

“His performance was outstanding,” Morgantown head coach Pat Sherald said. “From the first pitch, he gave us a chance to win the game. He pounded the strike zone, worked off his fastball and threw three pitches for strikes. It was a very clean game on his part.”

Half of the hits Milik allowed came in the first inning, when Wheeling Park (10-7) threatened with a pair of singles, before the right-handed pitcher induced a ground ball to second base off the bat of Rocco Digiandomenico to escape unscathed.

When the Mohigans (14-4) came to bat, they capitalized on Mason Bowers’ leadoff hustle double and produced an early run run on Dylan Travinski’s single to shortstop, which allowed Bowers to score from third for a 1-0 lead.

“We haven’t been very good at starting games and we’re trying to figure that out,” Patriots’ head coach Steve Myers said. “We have to get out of the gate a little better than what we have been. Those things make a difference. It’s every inning, but we need better starts.”

Wheeling Park had another quality scoring chance in the second after its starting pitcher Ryland Robb drew a base-on-balls and moved up to second on a sacrifice bunt. Paul McGee then hit a line drive, but MHS second baseman Koa Silvers hauled it in and the Mohigans maintained their one-run lead.

The game stayed 1-0 until the bottom of the third. Weston Mazey accounted for a leadoff bunt single, stole second and moved to third on a sacrifice bunt, before touching the plate courtesy of Silvers’ sacrifice fly to center.

WPHS went in order in the fourth to make it a stretch of eight of nine batters retired by Milik, who was effective while working quickly.

“The pace of play is very important for any defense. Our guys appreciate him getting in a rhythm, keeping the game moving fast and it keeps their attention in the game,” Sherald said. “Defensively, there’s not as many mental lapses when he’s working at that pace.”

Yet in the fifth, McGee led off with a single and eventually got to third with two outs, before scoring the Patriots’ lone run on a balk to cut the visitors’ deficit in half.

MHS, however, got that run back in the home half of the fifth. Caleb Nutter led off with a single and after Mazey reached on a fielder’s choice that yielded the first out of the inning, he moved to second on the game’s only error — one that allowed Bowers to reach.

Mazey then took off in an effort to steal third, and the throw down got away and went into left field for what marked the only error of the game — one that allowed the Mohigans’ shortstop to come home with his team’s third run.

MHS had a chance for more that frame, but Travinski bounced into a double play with runners at the corners to end the inning.

Milik again retired the Patriots in order in the sixth, benefitting from a strong catch by Bowers in center for the second out of that inning.

By the time he came back out on the mound in an effort to finish off the complete game, the Mohigans were in complete control after adding to their advantage with five runs in the sixth.

Eli Boggs accounted for a leadoff infield single and after Tommy Montague drew a base-on-balls, it marked the end of Robb’s pitching outing as he gave way to Trenton Rosenthal.

Rosenthal had no luck trying to keep Park within striking distance and immediately surrendered a run-scoring single off the bat of Nate Wolfe.

Noah Fields followed with a sacrifice fly to up the MHS lead to 5-1, and Silvers worked a bases loaded walk for the sixth run, before Travinski drove in a pair on a single.

“Offensively, that’s one of our better performances of the year with quality at bats one through the lineup,” Sherald said.

Milik worked a perfect seventh to make it nine straight batters retired to end his strong seven-inning outing.

Milik finished with five strikeouts and one walk.

Travinski led all players with three hits, while Bowers and Nutter added two apiece to aid the Mohigans in a 12-hit performance.

Over five-plus innings, Robb allowed five runs on eight hits. He struck out three and issued one base-on-balls.

“We had good starting pitching. He did exactly what we ask of him and gave us a quality five innings,” Myers said. “But we have to get better at understanding opportunities. It’s physical and mental right now, so we have to keep playing every day and get a better grasp on that. We also have to get more aggressive. We’re still a little too shy and we need to start taking the pace of the game over a little bit. We’re not there yet.”

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Governor reiterates desire for full financial support of West Virginians with disabilities

State officials acknowledged this week that in recent years West Virginia spent millions of dollars less than was allocated for waiver programs meant to support people with disabilities, instead shifting dollars to expenses like covid-19 testing or contract nursing.

Those monetary shifts were most pronounced, officials told legislators, during pandemic years when the use of those waivers was down because people were reluctant to use the financial support to bring workers into their homes. So the money was shifted to other needs.

Even as recently as fiscal 2023, though, a Department of Human Services report showed about $29 million went unused.

The level of state funding for intellectual and developmental disabilities waivers, commonly called IDD waivers, has been at the center of a simmering budget dispute among lawmakers and the governor.

A large crowd of families gathered at the Capitol on Sunday to push lawmakers to revisit a 10% cut to the program that was approved at the end of the legislative session.

Gov. Jim Justice

Gov. Jim Justice weeks ago called the budget that passed a “dog’s mess,” finding it lacking in support for human services support. He vowed to called lawmakers back into special session as early as possible to revisit the funding.

Asked by MetroNews today about the appropriate level of funding, Justice stood by that position. 

“Whether it be IDD waivers or it be Medicaid or whatever it may be, we’ve got folks in all types of areas. We work so hard to clear that waitlist on the IDD waivers and everything, we worked so hard to get that done, and we’ve got it done — and now we’ve got a lot of those folks in limbo,” Justice said.

The governor continued, “Why did we do this? Why in the world did we do this? Why did we strip a hundred million dollars out of something that we didn’t have to do, and absolutely we knew it was really going to hurt people. But I’m telling you right now you’re blaming the wrong guy here. If anybody is suggesting in any way that Jim Justice did something, you’re blaming the wrong guy.”

Lawmakers asked a range of questions about the state’s level of funding for human services this week during an interim meeting of the Joint Standing Committee on Health.

Officials with the state Department of Human Services testified that prior to the pandemic state officials were fairly good at balancing appropriations with the cost of services.

Cynthia Persily

During the pandemic the balance got out of whack, testified Cynthia Persily, secretary for the West Virginia Department of Human Services.

“What is important to note is that leftover funds in the past were used in previous DHHR administrations, and especially during the pandemic, to address other pressing costs across the one DHHR – including contract nursing services at state hospitals and nursing homes as well as covid testing through the Bureau for Public Health, Medicaid contract services that rose during the increased enrollment during the pandemic, self-funding of legislative mandates and others,” Persily said.

The pandemic occurred at the same time, around 2020, when officials in the Justice administration were working to clear 1,100 people off the waitlist for the IDD program.

Cindy Beane

“We made significant changes for us to be able to clear the waitlist, and that was a promise of this body and Governor Justice. Governor Justice and this body realized that individuals with intellectual disabilities need to be remain at home without all possible,” said Cindy Beane, commissioner of the state Bureau for Medical Services.

But the pandemic at that same time meant “you had individuals and families saying ‘I don’t necessarily want additional workers come into my home,'” Beane said.

“So, of course our spend went down dramatically. Our spend is just now coming back up to where it should be and rightsizing.”

Now, human services officials anticipate demand for in-home support programs to grow. Based on observations that spending was less than the money available, Beane said, an additional 150 slots were added to the IDD program in 2022. At the end of this year, she said, another 90 slots will be added.

After that, she said, officials will again evaluate whether the budget would allow additional slots.

The Legislature broke apart the $7 billion Department of Health and Human Resources last year into three agencies. The budgeting process is now more specific too, leading Persily to say financial transfers unauthorized by the Legislature won’t take place any more. She promised greater transparency.

“These between-department transfers will no longer take place,” Persily said.

Michael Hite

Delegate Michael Hite, R-Berkeley, questioned the wisdom of the financial shifts of recent years.

“I understand the need to rob Peter to pay Paul for some reason,” he said, “but we’re robbing the developmentally disabled to pay for covid testing and contract nurses and nursing facilities.”

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WVU BOG committee chair updates campus community on presidential search

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — A member of the WVU Board of Governors that is leading the committee that’s in charge of the search of the next WVU president sent a letter to the campus community Wednesday.

Patrice Harris

BOG Ad Hoc Governance Committee Chair Dr. Patrice Harris provided an update on the search process.

Dear West Virginia University Community,

The West Virginia University Board of Governors has begun the process of selecting the next president of our beloved University. This is a pivotal moment for West Virginia University. Choosing a president is a monumental responsibility and the Board is committed to a collaborative process as we embark upon this search.

As chair of the Ad Hoc Governance Committee, I am deeply committed to sharing regular updates with the WVU community, so you are informed of the process and the work that lies ahead. In March, the Board of Governors approved the Notice of Proposed Rulemaking for BOG Governance Rule 1.3 – Presidential Selection, Contracts, and Evaluation. A 30-day public comment period remains open through April 18. I encourage you to review the rule and share any comments you may have. WVU will post the public comments received and an amended version of BOG Governance Rule 1.3 a minimum of 10 days in advance of its next Special Meeting. During the week of May 6, there will be a Special Meeting of the Board of Governors to approve the final version of BOG Governance Rule 1.3 – Presidential Selection, Contracts, and Evaluation.

I announced the composition of the Search Committee at the Board of Governor’s meeting on April 12. The committee will include members from the following constituencies: the Board of Governors, faculty, staff, students, academic deans, athletics, WVU Medicine, WVU Foundation, WVU Alumni Association, Regional Campuses, as well as a member(s) at-large to ensure we have input from diverse perspectives. Over the next several weeks, the Ad Hoc Governance Committee will work with the above constituency groups to develop a slate of nominees and make a recommendation to the full Board for endorsement. We will share information about the nominating process for the committee, role responsibilities and the time commitment required for members of the committee over the next few days.

The Ad Hoc Governance Committee has also outlined a general timeline for the presidential search. Key milestones include the selection of the search firm, naming of the Search Committee members and officially opening the application process. As we move through the next several months, we will continue to update you on key milestones and the timeline. Please note that the dates on the timeline may be adjusted.

The Board of Governors believes it is critically important to hear from the University community as to the experience, areas of expertise and qualities our next president should possess. To that end, the Search Committee will be holding several listening sessions throughout the summer. Both in person and virtual options will be available. The Committee will also be distributing an online survey to gather input. We will release a schedule and instructions on how to participate by late spring. I strongly encourage you to take advantage of these opportunities to share your perspectives.

Finally, we know there is great interest in the search and its progress. To share critical information as well as gather important feedback, we have launched a web site, presidentialsearch.wvu.edu, where you can find the timeline and additional information. Please also watch MOUNTAINEER E-News, Unews and the Alumni Newsletter for updates in the coming months. As we move through the search process, updates will be disseminated through these and other channels to keep you informed. However, if at any time you have concerns or questions, please email us at [email protected].

As the work progresses to select our next president, I encourage each of you to be engaged in the process. Your input and viewpoints are welcomed and valued. I look forward to sharing more with you in the coming weeks and months.

Sincerely,

Dr. Patrice Harris
Chair, Ad Hoc Governance Committee
WVU Board of Governors

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Addressing the Changing Landscape of Special Education Amid a National Teacher Shortage

In the United States, there are around 7.3 million students with disabilities, accounting for 15% of the K-12 public school population. Of these, 12% are children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD)—a figure that has risen from 1.5% in 2001 and is expected to continue growing.

Over the past two decades, the average number of children diagnosed with ASD has more than tripled, with 1 in 36 children being identified with ASD in 2023 at the age of 8. This statistic shows a staggering increase from prevalence studies conducted in 2000, which estimated 1 in 150 children were diagnosed with ASD at age 8. And while there are many theories on the causes of this increase, including advanced diagnostic tools and a stronger understanding of ASD, the fact of the matter is that the student population is steadily changing.

These statistics are particularly concerning when you consider that the national shortage of qualified special education teachers is also growing. Which means that an increasing number of students who require special education services will not have access to the resources they need in school. As parents and educators, we must bring attention to the pressing challenges faced by students with ASD and their families and seek innovative, adaptable solutions to meet each student’s current needs and prepare for the classrooms of the future.

Under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), children with disabilities are ensured access to free appropriate public education (FAPE), including the Individualized Education Program (IEP) and other related services. And yet, students with disabilities across the nation are not receiving the high-quality, fulfilling education they deserve.

Although experiences differ from district to district, special education teachers have reported that some of the most persistent issues they and their students face include ill-prepared long-term substitute teachers and teacher vacancies, leading to larger class sizes and burnout. One teacher expressed that the average five-year burnout rate is attributable to a lack of support from their districts, and with stronger support, more teachers would remain in this role for longer periods.

Which leads to these important questions: As educators, what are reasonable measures we can take to increase support for special education programs throughout this national shortage? And as parents of students with ASD and other disabilities, what can you do to ensure your child is in a school that meets their individual needs?

One potential solution is to provide school-specific training for all faculty members, led by qualified special education teachers. This approach at the district or school level would enable general education teachers to be better prepared to cover or support a classroom in the absence of a special education teacher. Since generalized training may not always be applicable to individual school environments, providing teachers and long-term substitute teachers with insights into their school’s unique special education programs would go a long way towards classroom management and student success.

K12-powered online schools have taken proactive measures to address unexpected teacher vacancies through their innovative Special Universal Bank of Subs (SUBS) program. This alternative solution to the special education teacher shortage provides schools access to a bank of substitute special education teachers who are fully licensed and certified in multiple states and specially trained to use the online platforms and services provided by K12 and the schools it serves. Brick-and-mortar schools can also work directly with K12 and receive support from the K12 SUBS program. With the help of classroom aides, the SUBS teacher can effectively teach the class virtually, ensuring uninterrupted delivery of IEP-driven services to all students without disruption or disarray.

If you have concerns about your child’s school’s approach to teacher absences and vacancies regarding special education services, schedule a meeting with the principal. You can learn more about what supports are in place for their teachers and whether they are prepared for unexpected vacancies. But know that there are alternative options available. Throughout the country, there are schools specifically focused on serving students with disabilities, including those with ASD. These schools have highly trained teachers and therapists who possess a wide range of teaching resources tailored to their student population. Additionally, many families opt for homeschooling or online schooling, such as K12, which offers both public and private school options. K12 serves a significant number of students across various disability categories, surpassing the averages of many states. Of their students who qualify for special education services, 17.5% are students with ASD.

Let’s face it—the student population is evolving, and it’s crucial for the education system to keep pace with their shifting needs. And this starts with a willingness to embrace adaptability and being open to explore unconventional approaches that move away from traditional practices. As educators and parents, it’s our responsibility to ensure that our children receive the highest quality education possible, while equipping them with the skills and knowledge necessary for a fulfilling future.

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Alleged Walmart thief arrested in Huntington

HUNTINGTON, W.Va. — A Huntington man is in custody for allegedly stealing from multiple Walmart stores.

West Virginia State Police said a trooper responded to the Walmart located at 3333 US Rt. 60 East in Huntington on Monday for a report of a grand larceny complaint. The trooper learned that a male suspect had broken into a locked display case and stole many items in the electronics section of the store. WVSP said the same man had committed similar crimes at other Walmart stores in Barboursville W.Va. and South Point, OH.

The Cabell County Sheriff’s Department assisted troopers in identifying the suspect. State Police obtained an arrest and search warrant for the suspect, Robert W. Rogers, 50, of Huntington, at his residence. He was arrested and charged with grand larceny.

During the search of the residence, troopers located other stolen items that were linked to other similar crimes.

Rogers was arraigned and booked in the Western Regional Jail.

An investigation remains ongoing.

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Manchin and Capito split on speedy impeachment vote on Homeland Security secretary

West Virginia’s senators were split on the quick impeachment vote on U.S. Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas.

The majority of the U.S. Senate swiftly voted to reject two articles of impeachment against Mayorkas today.

Alejandro Mayorkas

The House majority voted two months ago by a one vote margin, 214-213, to impeach Mayorkas — the first time in nearly 150 years that a Cabinet secretary has been impeached.

The two articles charge that Mayorkas has “willfully and systematically” refused to enforce existing immigration laws and breached the public trust by lying to Congress and saying the border was secure.

Two-thirds of the Senate, which is controlled by Democrats, would have been necessary to vote to convict him.

Joe Manchin

Senator Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., voted to dismiss the impeachment charges. Manchin said the situation at the United States southern border is a crisis, but he said the impeachment process had not demonstrated Mayorkas has committed a crime.

“Impeachment is among the most solemn powers Congress possesses. The purpose is not to punish wrongdoing, but to preserve our constitutional government by removing treacherous and unfit officials from positions of public trust. Neither of the articles of impeachment against Secretary Mayorkas alleged any corruption, bribery, or any other crime. Instead, the House of Representatives sought to impeach a Cabinet official over a policy disagreement with the President,” Manchin said.

“I voted to dismiss the articles of impeachment against Secretary Mayorkas to avoid setting the dangerous precedent that this solemn process could be weaponized again against future Administration officials to score cheap political points.”

Shelley Moore Capito

Senator Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va., disagreed with the quick dismissal and said a full trial should have been held.

“Secretary Mayorkas has repeatedly failed to uphold the law and secure our southern border. The actions by all Democrats to prevent the Senate from holding a trial and hearing evidence is not only unconscionable, it’s a disservice to the American people who elected us to do our jobs and uphold our constitutional duty,” Capito said.

 

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State-of-the-art mountain bike park to come to Clendenin

CLENDENIN, W.Va. — Governor Jim Justice was joined by several other state and local dignitaries to present an over $2 million grant for a bike park to come to the town of Clendenin.

The new, state-of-the-art Air Raid Bike Park was announced Wednesday afternoon followed by a ribbon-cutting ceremony.

It will be a year-round park designed for downhill mountain biking that the operating company undertaking the project, Gravitate To West Virginia, as well as local leaders say, will potentially transform Clendenin into a world-class tourism destination.

Justice said he and the Department of Tourism made the decision to provide the initial funding for the project because Clendenin is an ideal location for tourism opportunities, but has been put through a lot over the years– a major downturn being the 2016 flood that did significant damage to the area– and he said it deserves something good to come to it.

“This community, like I said, has suffered some real cannonballs right to the stomach and then right behind that though, they rebounded, and this is close to our population center of Charleston, it’s in our backyard, it absolutely can bring more and more folks to West Virginia and more and more opportunity for all of us,” Justice said.

President of the soon-to-be Air Raid Bike Park who represents Gravitate To WV, Jake Smith said construction on the park will soon get underway and will take about a year to complete.

He said it’s the first stepping stone to a larger vision they have for the area, which is what is known as a Gravity Adventure Park.

Smith said the idea for the park began from a vision he had from traveling to surrounding areas and experiencing the mountain biking opportunities they offered.

“Traveling down in that area in Asheville, Zirconia in North Carolina and Tennessee, we recognized that we have some of the best terrain and we need to capitalize on that here in West Virginia,” Smith said.

He said West Virginia is already no stranger to downhill mountain biking as it’s offered at Snowshoe Ski Resort– one of the hosts to the UCI Mountain Bike World Series in 2023.

Smith said, growing up in the small community of Pinch, WV, not too far from Clendenin, he was raised to believe that if you want something, you go work for it, which he said is exactly what they did, adding that the outcome of the dream feels amazing.

“We rolled up our sleeves, went to work, and developed a concept plan out and were able to meet with a lot of people across the state,” he said. “They were able to see where we were at in the process and were able to take up to the next step, so seeing this today, it’s really surreal, it’s an emotional time for us all because it’s a dream come true.”

Clendenin Mayor Kay Summers said it gives her chills having everyone out Wednesday for the announcement as they help to welcome a new era for the town in building it back up after the flood.

“Everyone for one common goal, to build Clendenin back, to make it better, and to bring economic growth, for people to come and build here and live here,” she said. “Like what’s going on with the schools, I talked about Herbert Hoover High School, and our new elementary school is going to be here after eight years, so I’m just thrilled to death.”

She said the company plans to annex the area where the park is being built and they eventually plan to build cabins, an RV park and other various outdoor amenities.

Summers said this will open the door up to more businesses and economic growth for the area, as well. One business she said she hopes to see come back to the community is a grocery store, as Summers said they haven’t had a new grocery store in Clendenin since the flood.

She said developing the community back up following the flood has been a process of excitement and deep concern for her.

“When the rain comes I get really scared, like with the last storms, I’m responsible for the whole town, the whole community, I have to think of everything so differently, so that’s why I just pray so hard everyday that we can continue to grow,” Summers said.

However, Justice said the bike park to come to Clendenin just adds another reason to feel good about what’s going on for the future of the state.

“It adds another significant piece, that’s all there is to it,” said Justice. “I mean, just think, $7 billion dollars a year spent in West Virginia right now, and another billion from last year, and with all of that being said, growing it at a level of 30%, it’s off the chart.”

The over $2 million check Justice presented Wednesday was from an Abandoned Mine Lands (AML) grant.

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