PRINCE — In the metaphorical words of Fayette County Commission President Ken Eskew, the goal of restoring the historic train depot in Prince is not on the track yet, but officials are ready to buy a ticket.

What began as a dream in the mind of Beckley pharmacist and self-proclaimed rail activist David Gay, took a crucial first step toward fruition Monday as federal, state and county officials converged within the storied confines of the Prince railroad depot to discuss ways of acquiring the facility and restoring it to its former glory.

The consensus seemed to revolve around first convincing CSX to sell, or possibly even to donate, the building to Amtrak. According to Gay and station superintendent Marvin Plumley, CSX is anxious to rid itself of the landmark due to its liability status. Gay said that CSX extricated itself from the rail passenger business many years ago.

“CSX is an uncaring owner, and we need a caring owner,” Gay claimed, adding that the historic treasure has suffered from benign neglect over the years.

“This represents a dream for me today. It is a beautiful building and unique in more than one sense. We’re not in a city. What’s this beautiful station doing out here in what is a wide spot in the road? It was meant to be a regional station. It still serves an important function, and now it’s in a national park.”

Gay optimistically spoke of precedent that exists for CSX making such a donation to a local entity. Alderson, Hinton, Ronceverte and Saint Albans were quickly cited as successful examples of such ventures.

Plumley, the superintendent and unofficial janitor of the facility, lamented that he simply cannot bear to see the 1946 landmark continue its fall into disrepair. He said that CSX went through the proverbial roof when one electrician estimated that it would cost between $200,000 and $300,000 to upgrade the wiring.

“He blew it out of proportion. Another electrician said it would only take $5,000. CSX wants out of the maintenance of this. When I see the work that National Park Service (NPS) did on the Thurmond station, I say, ‘Bring it on,’” Plumley asserted.

According to Plumley, CSX is required by federal law to keep the building open for Amtrak. Kelli Dyke and Paul Gonzales, both representing Congressman Nick Rahall’s office, vowed to initiate communication with CSX about inviting company spokesman Ray Birkholtz to tour the depot and discuss its options.

“(Rahall) can open a door of communication with CSX. This has been done before, and we can start that today,” Dyke said.

Debbie Darden, acting superintendent of the New River Gorge National Park, expressed an avid interest in taking ownership of the facility — with a few caveats.

“We need ongoing maintenance funding. We would be more than happy to entertain a private partnership (for operating the structure). We have acquisition funds, and it is wholly within the park boundaries,” Darden asserted. “It is very key that expenses be limited. It’s doable. This building is wonderful, and I want it to be preserved.”

Dyke’s only concern about NPS procuring the depot is that it could disqualify them from receiving certain U.S. Department of Transportation funds.

“As I see it, there are three funding issues — acquisition, restoration and maintenance,” observed Doug Maddy, president of the Southern West Virginia Convention and Visitors Bureau. “My first thought is preserving this resource.”

Maddy later suggested the possibility of the Fayette County Commission serving as a ‘pass-through’ local agency, in terms of temporary ownership, until such time that the NPS could take it over. Both Eskew and fellow commissioner Matthew Wender appeared amenable to the idea.

Like a teacher handing out homework assignments, Wender doled out a number of requests to those in attendance as a way of tying up loose ends and not allowing Gay’s dream to die.

In addition to Dyke and Gonzales arranging a meeting with Birkholtz, Maddy and Fayette County Circuit Clerk and historian Danny Wright said they would communicate with the state Division of Culture and History. Wright also agreed to seek historic designation from the state for the landmark.

Darden said that she would research the logistics of Glacier National Park’s similar experience.

— E-mail: mhill@register-herald.com

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