60 years at the park
WELLSBURG – Next week Brooke Hills Park will be celebrating its 60th anniversary and park officials are inviting everyone to take part in a three-day celebration that will include free or discounted admission to the park’s swimming pool and other attractions, arts and craft vendors, a car cruise, live music and fireworks.
Janice McFadden, park manager, and the park board have scheduled for Tuesday through Thursday, arts and craft vendors from noon to 4 p.m., an inflatable bounce house and slide from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. and miniature train rides from 4 p.m. to 7 p.m.
There also will be free concerts from 7:30 p.m. to 9 p.m. featuring the Crush on Tuesday and Cross Creek on Wednesday and a car cruise with a disc jockey, organized by Anthony “Butch” Rotellini of the Ohio Valley Mopar Club, from 4 p.m. to 8 p.m. Thursday.
Wednesday’s concert will be followed by a fireworks display.
Those attending the concert should bring lawn chairs or blankets. Food will be sold.
Also planned is a meet and greet at 4:30 p.m. Wednesday with descendants of William C. and Anna Gist, who left their 750 acres of farmland off state Route 27, five miles east of Wellsburg, to the county for development as a park.
McFadden said past park board members and managers have been invited to three-day celebration also.
Located not far from the park’s clubhouse, the Gists’ farmhouse is known by many as the site of the Brooke Hills Spooktacular, a haunted house attraction that drew hundreds, some from as far as Canada, to the park on October weekends for many years.
Once a major fundraiser for the park, rooms in the 180-year-old house were rebuilt to depict various scary scene by a volunteer team of adults and youth to depict various scary scenes, often under the direction of Madelon Jackson and her son, Doug.
In recent years the park board closed the spookhouse, citing concerns about its safety.
Another reminder of the park’s origin is the Civil War-era apple barn that now serves as Brooke Hills Playhouse.
The playhouse began in 1972 with a group of recent college graduates that included Shari Harper Coote, her first husband, the late Bill Harper; John Hennen and Judy Porter Hennen, who were inspired by their experience working at the White Barn community theater near Irwin, Pa.
In an earlier interview, Foote recalled working with others to renovate the playhouse, often at their expense, though local businesses provided materials that often weren’t paid for until the playhouse’s second season.
Members of the Franklin Community Fire Department were among volunteer laborers for the project, which involved moving a stairway leading to the barn’s upper level outside to make more room for the stage and installing seats from an East Liverpool theater.
Later private contributions and state grants enabled the Brooke County Arts Council, the playhouse’s parent group, to replace the building’s siding and roof and add a handicap-accessible roof.
Over the years, the playhouse has presented a variety of shows, including a yearly production featuring young talent and a few written by local playwrights.
Currently under the direction of Julia Barnhart, it’s presenting this summer a series of shows that have won various awards, including “The Vagina Monlogues,” to be presented at 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday. For information or reservations, call (304) 737-3344.
In recent years the Brooke County West Virginia University Extension Service has been working with the park board to restore a 180-year-old toll house at the park. The house served as the residence of a toll collector who collected fees from the many traveling a toll road extending from Washington, Pa., to Wellsburg, including sections that later became state Route 27.
Records show the travelers included many farmers who paid from 2 cents to 20 cents for livestock transported over the road. It’s said to be the last toll house of about 26 that operated in the Northern Panhandle.
Brooke County WVU Extension Agent Norm Schwertfeger secured a $160,000 federal grant to replace the house’s deteriorating foundation and sections of roof, add new wood siding, install new windows and doors and add a small room to serve as a restroom, among other work.
More funding is needed for renovations to the interior.
It’s been suggested the house could serve as a gift shop for the park or a visitors center for a scenic byway that runs from state Route 27 to Wellsburg’s historic district, Bethany College and back to the park via state Route 88.
In 2012 the park saw the addition of the Brooke County Veterans Memorial Park, which honors all Brooke County veterans and memorializes 186 who died while serving their country and 27 who were prisoners of war.
The names of the fallen service members and POWs appear on a polished granite wall overlooking the park’s paddle boat pond. Separated from the wall by a walkway of granite pavers is a symbolic cast bronze statue created by Canadian artist Timothy Schmalz.
The site also includes ledgers representing Flanders Field and Arlington Cemetery, representing those buried abroad and at home; and a a monument to Marine Lance Cpl. Michael J. Smith Jr., a Brooke County native whose death in a skirmish in Iraq in 2004 inspired the park.
The $171,180 memorial park was built through the support of many residents, groups and businesses and many fundraisers sponsored by the Brooke County Veterans Memorial Park Foundation.
“It’s a beautiful addition to the park,” said McFadden.
This year a heating system and handicap-accessible chairlift were added to the pool and new pipes, pumps and filters were installed.
“We’re seeing quite a few people all the time because it’s heated now,” said Walter Ferguson, park board president.
A decline in attendance and revenue in recent years had led the park board to reducing its hours for the pool and other facilities to the weekends only. But this year the park has returned to seven days of operation, with the pool and other facilities open from noon to 7 p.m. and the 18-hole par 3 golf course open from 8 a.m. to dusk.
Financial struggles for the park have been alleviated since the park board signed a $750,000 lease allowing Chesapeake Energy to establish a natural gas well at the rear of the park.
The drilling has been completed and the park will receive 18 percent of royalties for gas drawn from the site.
Money from the lease has enabled the park board to make many repairs and improvements, including the construction of a new maintenance building with adequate space to store the park’s tractors and golf carts.
The latter had been the target of vandals in recent years because they were stored outside.
The park board also has formed the Friends of Brooke Hills Park, a nonprofit, tax-exempt group, to seek contributions for the park. The group recently raised a $6,000 match required of a $6,500 state grant used to install a grinder pump for the park’s waste processing system.
McFadden said the group is among many volunteers that have aided the park over the years, often by providing free labor the park could not afford.
Henry Tarr, who recently stepped down from the board after serving 30 years, said it was through volunteering that he became involved with the park.
Former Park Manager Gary Young approached him to help at the park, he said, and soon he was doing “everything from cutting the grass to fixing the buildings. But they were all good times.”
Tarr said as a past president of the board, he’s seen the park benefit from many volunteers and he’s pleased to see it grow.
McFadden, Ferguson and other park board members are considering many ideas for future development at the park.
The park offers water and electric hookups for recreational vehicles and primitive camp sites, and park officials would like to add restrooms with warm showers on the Brooke County fairgrounds to serve campers and fair attendees.
Also eyed are small cabins, an amphitheater, ice skating rink, water park and a multipurpose building that could be rented throughout the year.
“We want to make the park a destination for people not only in Brooke County but all over,” said Ferguson.
When McFadden became the park’s manager nine years ago, she set a goal of making it a year-round park.
Through her efforts and the work of others, the park hosts a variety of events through the year, including a Trick or Treat Trail at Halloween and similar Bunny Trail event at Easter, brunch with Santa Claus and Christmas lightup, and thanks to the Brooke County Veterans Memorial Park, Memorial Day and Veterans Day services.
And it again will be the site of the Brooke County Fair on Sept. 5-7.
McFadden said the park will again celebrate National Kids Day from 1 p.m. to 6 p.m. Aug. 3. The festivities will include a cardboard boat race and the Duck Pluck event.
The latter event involves the sale of chances, $3 each of two for $5, on ducks placed in the park’s baby pool, for prizes donated by area businesses. The chances may be purchased at the pool or clubhouse in advance or on that day.
The cardboard boat race challenges teams of children and adults to create a floatable watercraft using cardboard and duct tape supplied by the park. Participants should arrive at noon to begin constructing their boats.
Cardboard trophies and gift cards will go to the creators of the crafts that are able to sustain a child passenger in the swimming pool for the longest amount of time.
Before and after the two contests, visitors may enjoy free admission to the pool.
Also slated is the next in the park’s series of mud bogs on Aug. 10, its annual night golf scramble Aug. 23, a starwatching event sponsored by the Wheeling S.M.A.R.T. Center on Aug. 15, and Osiris Shrine Tin Lizzy car show on Aug. 17.
Despite so many activities, McFadden and other park officials said the park still is regarded as a hidden gem in Brooke County that even many local residents overlook.
McFadden said visitors have told her they find the park to be quite enjoyable.
“They will comment on the whole atmosphere of the park, the grounds, the low cost for our activities. But the most common comment is ‘we didn’t even know you were here,'” she said.