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Ice climbers enjoy the vertical thrills
by Torie Knight
STAFF WRITER

    CHEAT MOUNTAIN -Eric Owen had his first try at ice climbing this weekend.
He and friend Mike Reynolds pulled their car off U.S. Route 33 in Randolph County on Cheat Mountain Friday.
A natural spring had frozen solid along nearly 90 feet of vertical rock. Both had eyed the spot for a long time. They knew that after about four days of cold weather it would be perfect.
    Finally, Mother Nature agreed with them. "We've both driven by here for years and heard about it through word-of-mouth," Reynolds said.
    Owen took a day off from his guide service work in Fayetteville, a town in Fayette County, for a day on the ice. He has been rock climbing for years, but the 22-year-old had yet to master ice.
    Reynolds, 24, started rock climbing at age 15. He went to college to major in outdoor recreation. He works at Seneca Rocks. Rock climbing turned to ice climbing simply because he was bored in the winter. "Everybody has a different opinion as to why they do it," Reynolds said.
    Climbing is a fast-growing sport in West Virginia. Carnivals and fairs now have climbing gyms and are encouraging youth to get involved in rock climbing. These two believe climbing is addictive.
    Owen started out climbing in high school. He was known to skip school and spend the day on the rocks. He often had to go home and explain to his parents what he was doing. After college, he took to the road for travel climbing.
"It's an obsessive, compulsive thing," Owen said. "Once you start doing it you enjoy it so much that if you stop you'll go insane."
    Reynolds describes travel climbing as a Lewis-and-Clark feeling of exploration. Owen believes it is like taming unchartered waters.
    Whether it is the 300-plus feet of Mount Washington or the 90 feet of Cheat Mountain, it is a challenge and a thrill, he said. "You can be a tourist, but you are not. You're going there with a purpose," Owen said. "It's a bird's-eye view most people never see."
    Neither rock nor ice climbing are expensive, the two said. For ice climbing, one only needs waterproof clothes, a helmet, boots with crampons, two ice axes and ropes.
    On Cheat Mountain, Owen and Reynolds were climbing with a top rope. That means they had gone to the top of the mountain and put an anchor above them. They connected the rope to their belts to use as a safety device, keeping them safe from a fall.
    The other way to climb, from the ground up, isn't as easy. Climbers must use hollow screws that they pound into the ice as they climb. They clip their rope onto the screws. If they fall, they only fall 10 feet below the screws, or the length of the rope. Ground up is more dangerous, the two said.
    The whole idea, however, is not to fall so you don't have to worry about the dangers, Reynolds said.
For these climbers, life is a thrill. Reynolds said they get paid to play and that is the life.
    Their friends envy them and wish they lived in the mountains of West Virginia near Cheat Mountain, Seneca Rocks, Dolly Sods and the New River Gorge.
    Owen said that although he thinks of himself as monetarily poor, when he is on the rocks or ice, he thinks of those who don't do it as the poor ones. Nature has made him rich in mind.
    Something has to keep them going, Reynolds said, because the $2 he had in his pocket won't.



Businesses encouraged by downtown
renovation plan
by Paul Leakan
STAFF WRITER

    For Don Hutson, one of the major headaches of owning a business in downtown Clarksburg just won't go away.
While Hutson fills prescriptions at Bland's Drug Store, non-customers often sneak their cars into his lot and fill parking spaces.
    Hutson, the owner of Bland's, said the problem hasn't really hurt his business. But he also knows his customers' demands for convenient parking. And parking in downtown Clarksburg is at a premium.
    "Parking is a major concern downtown, especially in a small city where people like to be able to park on your front door." Hutson, however, believes there is some reason to feel encouraged about the future after taking a peek at the city's proposed $9 million plan for the downtown, unveiled Monday morning.
And he is not the only one.
    The recommendations in the plan, including removing decaying buildings and adding 108 parking spaces, a walking trail and green space areas for relaxation, received mostly high marks from several downtown businesses.
"It's exciting and long overdue," said Josie D'Annunzio Faix, owner of Heritage Square BookCafe and Conference Center. "It's very exciting that with everything going on in the downtown we are going to spruce it up and make it more inviting."
In particular, Faix is excited about the green space being proposed in an area between South Third Street and South Fourth Street on Trader's Alley.
    The green space would include a grass and brick area with planters, areas to relax and a center clock tower with four faces. A 61-space parking lot would be installed next to it. Hutson supports the plan's recommendations to demolish several run-down buildings. "I think that it may be 15 years from now before something is done about those buildings," Hutson said. "Getting rid of the ugly faces on those buildings would make the downtown more attractive and could bring in some other businesses."
    John Spatafore, part-owner of Jack's Friendly Inc. furniture store, agreed. "My philosophy is, the more old buildings they tear down the better it is for the city."
    Marsha Viglianco, owner of the Clarksburg Movie Cafe, also agreed. "I really think the major problem here is getting these buildings more attractive so that businesses will want to move downtown."
    Martin Shaffer, one of the property owners of the portion of Trader's Avenue where the proposed parking lot would go, was also impressed by the plan.
    "It's something to look forward to. I think it was a nice plan. I think that if our city council has vision, they'll see what they can do to start working on it."
    The plan, which was developed by Hammer, Siler, George Associates and MSES Consultants, could be a major step in the right direction, said City Manager Percy Ashcraft.
    "One of the problems we have with the downtown is it's not as attractive as it should be. We have trees planted in the wrong places, curbs that are chipped, sidewalks that need repaired, buildings that need remodeled, torn down, or condemned. Our goal is obviously to create a more pleasant environment." Creating a more pleasant environment won't come cheap, however.
    The total cost for the plan ranges from $9.4 to $9.6 million. To put that into perspective, city's proposed budget for this year is about $8.3 million.
    The city likely will pursue a Small Cities Block Grant to fund some of the projects. The maximum grant, if it were given, would be about $1.5 million.
    Before then, Clarksburg City Council will discuss whether or not members want to change anything in the plan. Council is expected to discuss the plan during its March 11 conference session.
Whatever methods council is able to pursue to fund the plan, Hutson hopes that many of the recommendations are put into action.
    After all, Hutson's business burned down in 1980 and he chose to spend a large sum of money to rebuild it. And he chose to build it downtown. "We invested a lot of money in this building," Hutson said, "and I wouldn't want to give it up."



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Copyright Clarksburg Publishing Company 1999