Continuously adapting, expanding and trying new approaches has become the norm for businesses which want to survive in today's economy.

Municipalities can also be included in that list.

Tuesday, the City of Oak Hill cut the ribbon on Needleseye Park, a rock climbing, hiking and mountain biking park on a large tract of land around the Minden area. The West Virginia Land Trust partnered with the city to purchase 283 acres of land from Berwind Land Co. for public recreational use.

West Virginia Tourism Commissioner Chelsea Ruby visited Fayette County for Tuesday's ribbon-cutting, a fact which Oak Hill City Manager Bill Hannabass called "huge."

While offering her thanks to the various entities involved in the process, Ruby thanked "most importantly, the community here, because you all have such a strong community when it comes to outdoor recreation, when it comes to tourism." When she attends events involving people in the region, Ruby said she knows "there are always going to be people who are passionate about tourism and growing the tourism economy and outdoor recreation in the area. ... Day in and day out, you guys are the people who are on the ground."

Gov. Jim Justice's administration has "expanded the duties of the tourism office to include economic development, to look at ways that we can grow the tourism economy in West Virginia," Ruby said. "Everyone here knows how important tourism and outdoor recreation is to the state. I don't have to tell you guys it's a $4.3 billion industry in West Virginia. I don't have to tell you that it brings in over $500 million in taxes. And I don't have to tell you there's 45,000 tourism jobs in West Virginia.

"Those are the reasons that we are all here today. It's projects like this; it is growing the economy and adding new things to our list to promote. This project is very, very important to us. We continue to do research on what motivates travelers, what brings people to West Virginia, and in some ways, more importantly, why people aren't coming to West Virginia."

Outdoor recreation is consistently one of the main draws in the state, she said.

Gene Kistler, president of the New River Alliance of Climbers, was in attendance at Tuesday's event.

"When climbing really started to take off in the '80s here, people, of course, started off near the (New River Gorge) bridge," recalled Kistler. "This place eventually got discovered here in the '90s.

"We climbed here in the '90s for maybe a couple of years, then maybe it was the Meadow River that everybody went to. It's fun to discover things."

"We knew about this place, and it's just a brilliant move on the part of the City of Oak Hill to buy this and do this," Kistler continued. "There's a short list of cities in the U.S. that have climbing within the city limits, and it's a prestigious list. And Oak Hill's part of that now.

"What's really nice about Needleseye is its exposure for winter climbing and for being here in the winter time. Frankly, summer time in Needleseye Park is kind of brutal. It's going to be interesting to come up with ways to sort of mitigate that. But I think it's gonna be primarily sort of a fall, winter, spring (best scenario)."

Kistler says the park offers a variety of options. "The climbing is a combination of boulders where you don't use gear, you just have shoes and maybe some chalk, and you stay close to the ground and use pads to land on," he said. "As you hike through the park, further to the left ... all that comes together in about an 80-foot wall that's just classic Nuttall sandstone cliff, and it really has not been particularly explored. That's real exciting, to have the opportunity to go in there and do it right. There's been a lot of bouldering that's gone on there, a lot of hard bouldering. People are psyched."

Kistler said local rock climbers joined the city, the Access Fund, a climbing advocacy group, and other agencies in helping build a "grassroots awareness" of the possibilities of Needleseye.

"The city (with the lead from Hannabass and GIS coordinator Marvin Davis) was really open," he said. "It's been a great process."

Brent Bailey, executive director of the West Virginia Land Trust, said the fact the project was locally-generated was a key. "When we select projects, we're looking for local buy-in," Bailey said during a media hike before the ceremony. "This was an easy buy for us."

According to Bailey, the WVLT seeks to get involved with projects that will provide public benefit such as protecting water supply, providing recreation and preserving history.

After exploring the title on the land and other areas such as mineral issues and boundaries, the WVLT wrote a proposal to move the project along. Needleseye features "beautiful West Virginia woodland and spectacular rock formations," he said. "It's just really a big win, a big score."

Hannabass termed Tuesday "a fantastic day for the City of Oak Hill." Initiated in March 2016, the Needleseye project "moved at lightning speed," he said. Mayor Fred Dickinson and city council threw their support behind the project, and the West Virginia Land Trust and the state's Outdoor Heritage Conservation Fund came on board, as did other partners. "You have to have multiple partners. You can't do this as one entity," the city manager said.

"I found very quickly that this property speaks for itself," Hannabass said during the media hike. "It should be public, it should be protected, it should be for the enjoyment for all of us for generations and generations and generations to come, and it is, and that's why we're here to cut the ribbon."

He said the project cost has been around $600,000, with the city and the WVLT contributing some funds but the bulk of the money coming from the Outdoor Heritage Conservation Fund in the form of a grant to purchase the property from Berwind.

Climbers are utilizing Needleseye Park currently, Hannabass said. "It gets a good bit of traffic from climbers. It's a new spot for a lot of people. You don't have to be a climber; it's beautiful just to stroll through the property."

"Outdoor recreation is extremely important to our state," said Jessica Spatafore, WVLT's director of development and communications. "In addition to benefiting our current local residents and their health, outdoor rec opportunities strengthen our economy by increasing tourism, attracting new businesses and boosting the housing market."

With the parking lot and access now available at the north entrance, other future work includes signage and creation of a south entrance, said Hannabass. "There will be some more amenities to come," as well as promotion of the park, he said.

To access the north entrance parking lot, turn on Gatewood Road from Main Street Oak Hill, travel 1.6 miles, turn right on Needleseye Road and go 0.5 of a mile to the parking lot.

Email: skeenan@register-herald.com or follow on Twitter @gb_scribe

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