By Cody Neff
BECKLEY, W.Va. — As part of the Blueprint Communities program, Sophia and a few other cities have officials who are aiming to make their cities grow to the same level as places like Pigeon Forge, Tenn.
“What we’re really wanting to do is an excursion train,” Sophia Blueprint Vice Chair John Fanary said. “This excursion train that we’re wanting to run on the Norfolk-Southern tracks is something that would really create economic development. It would take negotiations with the state rail authority, our mayor and some authorities from Norfolk-Southern.
“That’s going to have to be negotiated and that has to be set up. This just needs to happen. That train will bring development for four counties. You can get on the train in Sophia and you can actually go to Virginia Beach from Sophia. Not a lot of people know that.”
Fanary says Sophia is in a great spot because it’s the gateway to the coalfields of the state.
“The coalfields played a very important role in the industrial revolution and that is not just West Virginia history, but that’s our nation’s history,” he said. “The coal that produced the steel that built this nation and made it great came from the coalfields.
“If Gatlinburg, Pigeon Forge, Sevierville and Dollywood can showcase farming then surely southern West Virginia can showcase railroads, coal and coal mining that took place during the industrial revolution.”
Fanary says the group has already talked about some of the stops the train could make.
“Helen has a baseball field that was recently refurbished,” he said. “The baseball is from the ’30s or ’40s when baseball was really popular in that coal camp. You would get to go by Helen and see that before you head to Mullens.
“In Mullens, we’re wanting to do the murder mystery hotel in the old Wyoming hotel. That hotel sits right on the banks of the Guyandotte.”
Getting the murder mystery hotel could do more than create a tourist attraction, Fanary said.
“Your universities like University of Charleston, New River and Valley College can add the arts to their curriculum and these young people can stay in West Virginia and actually be employed down in the murder mystery hotel,” he said. “To be able to study the arts and get a job in the state promotes economic development. People study drama and theater in Tennessee then go and perform at Dollywood.
“Mullens was a Blueprint Community in 2007. The city council has been working very diligently ever since to create museums and get different things in Mullens so, when economic development really hits, they’d have something to show. They’re very much in position to make things happen for themselves down there once we get an excursion train coming through there.”
Fanary said the next stop would be the antique Itmann Company Store before the train moved on to Welch.
“(Sen.) Joe (Manchin) and his wife Gayle Manchin toured Welch just before Christmas and they were touting economic development down there. There are people flocking to Welch and buying up property because of the Hatfields and McCoys Trail.
“We want to roll the train into Welch so you could stay a couple of days and ride the trails…