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Doddridge officials waiting for community assessment

by Nora Edinger

REGIONAL EDITOR

WEST UNION -- Color-coordinated fire hydrants are just the beginning.

"At first I thought that was crazy," said Earl Daugherty, president of the Doddridge County Chamber of Commerce. He was referring to a newspaper article describing a West Virginia University Extension Service community assessment that recommended a fresh look for Grant County's sidewalk fixtures.

"But when you looked at the whole report, it can make a difference."

Be it fire hydrant paint, a better downtown parking plan, signs directing visitors to key county locations or the creation of a historic district in downtown West Union, several Doddridge County leaders are now anxiously awaiting their own assessment.

The process began last summer when a handful of extension service agents came to town with notepads and cameras, Daugherty said. The chamber and the Family Resource Network had invited the First Impressions team to list the county's positives and negatives.

"No one really listens to anyone in the community -- that's just typical," Daugherty said of the need for outsiders to come in. "We needed an objective view."

What the team found were areas of need -- primarily parking and directional signs. They also found assets that long-term residents were less likely to see, such as super-friendly residents who are more than happy to give directions.

"They took a lot of pictures of our Victorian houses," Daugherty said. They were impressed by the historic quality of many downtown buildings, he said.

"We have the best-looking courthouse in the state of West Virginia," Daugherty said of report indicators.

In late May, Doddridge County entered the second phase of the First Impressions program. Another team of extension agents, doctors, engineers and landscape architecture experts came to town for a three-day series of public meetings.

"We got a lot of good input," Daugherty said, adding that more than 80 people -- including a number of elected officials -- attended the final meeting and banquet.

Now, Daugherty and other community leaders are waiting for a step-by-step plan of action for making all of Doddridge County a more attractive place for current and prospective residents and businesses. The plan, expected in late summer, will include opportunities for visits from experts to help with specific situations, such as dealing with abandoned school buildings.

While the report is not a mandate, Daugherty is hoping community leaders will join in making many of the suggestions reality.

"They have a really good feeling for what rural communities face," he said of the team. "Whether or not it pulls the community together I don't know. But, I'm going to beat the drum loudly."

The First Impressions program is a state-sponsored endeavor available to any community in West Virginia. Daugherty said the only costs they have incurred -- about $3,500 -- have been for team transportation and the publication of the reports.

Regional editor Nora Edinger can be reached at 626-1403.

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