By Derek Tyson, The Welch News Editor
WELCH, W.Va. – At Friday’s Welch City Council meeting, a new component to local tourism was introduced before council.
Partnering with the National Coal Heritage Area Foundation, visitors to Welch can now take a walk through history on a new historical walking tour.
Initially began by former Jack Caffrey Arts & Cultural Center Director Ann Turley, Business Development Specialist Jason Grubb carried on with the process.
“It was supposed to be a walking tour with plaques on the buildings. We talked to Christie Bailey (Director of the National Coal Heritage Area Authority),” said Grubb. “What we did instead was have window clings made to cover the windows because let’s face it, we’ve got some nasty looking buildings down there.”
Part of the grant proposal to involved a walking tour and QR codes that can be scanned by smart phones, giving more information on the historical site.
“I went in to build it out on our website, but it was going to take up our bandwidth and slow the entire site down,” said Grubb, reaching out to the City’s website developer for solutions. The answer was to create a digital flipbook.
“They generated the QR codes that tied back to all the pictures (on the window clings). It’s on our website now,” said Grubb. “If you go to any of the windows and scan the code, it takes you to that specific page in the book, giving you some history about the photo and the building.”
The walking tour project was made possible by a matching fund grant, $655 from the National Coal Heritage Area Foundation and equally matched by the City of Welch.
“The good thing is we have it forever and can add new buildings at any time,” said Grubb. “Expand from 20 locations to 1000 if we wanted to.”
“Hopefully you guys approve, but we’re going in the mode of a tourist town,” said Mayor Harold McBride. “I think we’ve all kicked it around, it’s the only way we’re going to survive. Last weekend, it showed me it is the right way to go. I think we had more population here last weekend than what we have period. I’ve never seen so many people in my life as were here for Labor Day weekend. It was unreal.”
“Saturday afternoon, I drove down to Kwik Serve. Between there and my mom’s house, 1.2 miles, I passed 61 side by side ATVs,” said Grubb. “Those things go for 20-30 thousand a piece, 1.2 million minimum on Stewart Street in a one mile stretch.”
“We need to keep pushing this guys because the better it gets, the better Welch gets,” said McBride. “We need to do more for the people of Welch and we can let these guys help pay for it.”
McBride also felt the need to push for activities outside of trail riding, as the tourist demographic has begun to include the entire family.
“We have to get going and get other things for people to do beside ride the trails. It’s not just men coming anymore, it’s families,” said McBride. “Mom and the kids ride the first day or two, but then they want something else to do. The more we do, the more we’re going to get.”
“If we don’t have anything, they’re going to go other places looking for it,” said Jim Spence. “They stay in Welch, but they travel to Matewan, Logan, go white water rafting, they’re taking everything in.”
Grubb said he spends time each week with other cities and Economic Development Authorities across southern West Virginia, pushing to work together to keep tourists in the region.
“You and I might think, I’m not driving to Fayetteville, but when you’re on vacation in Myrtle Beach, it’s nothing to drive to Wilmington for the day,” said Grubb. “Folks are wanting to stay here and visit Fayetteville or vice versa. All the EDAs and all the different entities are wanting to work with us. They call every week saying how can we grow this together.”
“We’re right in the middle of the coalfields, why can’t we put in an exhibition coal mine,” asked Jim Spence. “You’ve got to go all the way to Beckley to see that.”
“I would like to see us not only have the mine, but the little preparation plant out from it. After touring the mine, take them through the prep plant to show them the art of coal production. It’s an art guys, I don’t know if you’ve ever been in a prep plant, but creating coal is absolutely an art in today’s world,” said McBride.
Beyond the mine and prep plant, McBride said why not build the coal camp as well.
“There’s the Superintendent’s House on the hill and put some houses around it,” said McBride. “All the little houses could have different shops in them.”
“You’d be surprised at the new generation not having seen a lump of coal,” said Spencer.
“I get people at the Drive-In all the time, asking if I can get them a lump of coal,” said McBride.
Also at Friday’s City Council meeting, the first reading of an ordinance authorizing the purchase of the old 76 Union Station property was held.