By Chris Boyd
Officials in Fayette County are trying to keep a landmark recreational destination away from the state chopping block as lawmakers grapple with a $265 million budgetary shortfall.
Sen. William R. Laird, D-Fayette, made his case to the Senate on Wednesday to keep Hawks Nest Golf Course open.
The state-operated course, created for Union Carbide employees in the late 1930s, was originally the site of a camp for Depression-era workers who constructed the Hawks Nest Tunnel. Many are familiar with the tragic story of the over 600 workers who died from silicosis as a result of the poor working
conditions while building the tunnel.
It was a history Laird recounted for the Senate, specifically about how it relates to the region both economically and culturally.
“I rise today to speak on a matter of interest and concern to the citizens of the Upper Kanawha Valley portion of Fayette County. More specifically, I want to bring to your attention the concerns that I have related to the pending permanent closure of Hawks Nest Golf Course, a small nine-hole public course located on U.S. Route 60 on Gauley Mountain in the Valley District of Fayette County.
“While this matter may seem comparatively insignificant given most matters of public policy considered by this body, I am of the strong opinion and belief that the story of this little golf course is, in many ways, the story of southern West Virginia and the continued decay and decline of our once proud and vibrant coal communities which contributed so much to the past industrial era economy of our great state.”
Fayette County Commissioner Matthew Wender said that the commission would be disappointed if the state shuts down the course, and that in his mind, the reasons given for shuttering the state-maintained facility are not compelling.
“Whether they make money is a poor measurement of whether they should remain open,” he said.
Commission President Denise Scalph described the current status of the course.
“Local leaders had been meeting to try to come up with a plan to keep the golf course open. The effort was to try to develop a method of sustainability. There had been a decrease in the operating deficit in the last several years and a modest increase in revenue,” she said.
“Although DNR was willing to continue to operate the golf course, much-needed renovations and repairs would be necessary as well as significant local support,” Scalph said. “All parties recognize the importance of Hawks Nest Golf Course as a recreational facility in the Upper Kanawha Valley and many would like to see it remain open.”
In closing his speech, Laird reminded listeners of what he regards as his generally quiet demeanor. Then he quoted Welsh poet Dylan Thomas:
“‘Do not go gentle into the good night. Rage, rage against the dying of the light.’ Mr. President, I rage today on behalf of a people who live in a region that once contributed greatly to the economy of this great state. Mr. President, I rage today on behalf of communities who are struggling to rebuild themselves in the wake of declining populations and shrinking opportunities. Mr. President, I rage today on behalf of the families who want their children to learn to hit a golf ball rather than a crack pipe. Mr. President and ladies and gentlemen of the Senate, thank you for allowing me to rage.”
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