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Stonewall Jackson resort praised at groundbreaking

by Danny Forinash

STAFF WRITER

The official ground-breaking ceremony for the new resort at Stonewall Jackson State Park was held Thursday afternoon at the park's muti-purpose building.

About 200 dignitaries, state Division of Natural Resources officials and residents attended the event.

Construction of the resort began several months ago, but no official ceremony was ever held.

The new project will include a 196-room lodge, a convention center, additional campground, an Arnold Palmer signature 18-hole golf course and 10 cabins, according to Rudy Henley of McCabe-Henley-Durbin, the re-sort's developer.

"The resort will provide more than 200 new jobs, so there will definitely be an economic impact," said Henley. "Hopefully, new businesses will come into the community with the improvement in cultural and recreational lifestyle, and there will be more investment in the area."

Sen. Robert C. Byrd, who served as the groundbreaking's keynote speaker, said it was a "very hard fight" to get the resort built.

He pointed out that, for this project, the state was allowed to use private investment as part of its cost-sharing with the federal government. Byrd said he helped push legislation to allow such a use of private investment.

Byrd also noted that at first many congressmen were against building the resort, but these opponents are "very supportive of it now."

The senator also took a jab at critics of "pork-barrel" projects.

"I have been called the pork king," he said. "But we like those ribbons of pork that weave through the hills of West Virginia."

Henley praised Byrd for his support of the resort.

"This is project that has been envisioned for decades, since the great floods of the '50s," Henley said.

"Senator Byrd was the one person who made this project possible."

Byrd praised Stonewall Jackson Lake as a flood-prevention project. He said he witnessed the 15 floods that came from the West Fork River from 1956 to 1983 and the damage they caused.

"If one good thing came from the (floods), it was the coming together of the community," he said "Like the lake's namesake, you have all stood firm.

"We have achieved so much already. Let's keep working together to make Stonewall Jackson even greater. ... We can harvest the reward beyond our wildest dreams."

Judge William L. Fury, called the groundbreaking an "epic occasion in the history of Lewis County," saying Stonewall Jackson fills both flood prevention and recreation needs.

Col. David R. Ridenour of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers' Pittsburgh District agreed. He said the dam has prevented $100 million in flood damage, and the lake has had 400,000 recreational visitors since in 1988.

"We will have the opportunity to tap into one of the best resources of all -- people," said Randy Kolls, vice president of Benchmark Hospitality, which will manage the resort. "The key word is 'fun,' and we expect to have a lot of fun."

Henley praised community support for the resort project.

"Public support is an amazing outgrowth of a need and a dream," he said. "We were able to merge recreation with water management, and we hope it can serve as a model for future activities and community growth."

DNR Director John B. Rader said additions to the park are part of $45 million spent on parks over the last two years.

"We've been able to achieve something we wouldn't have been able to as individuals," said Rader. "It is a dream turned into reality. ... It will be one of the premier destination marks in the state, bringing in millions of dollars and serving millions of visitors."

Gov. Cecil Underwood also spoke at the groundbreaking, and presented a $100,000 grant for the enhancement of downtown Weston.

The 65th annual Lewis County Chamber of Commerce dinner was held after Thursday's groundbreaking.

Staff writer Danny Forinash can be reached at 626-1446.

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