Three years ago, in October, 2012, West Virginia Governor Earl Ray Tomblin came to Berkeley Springs to make a promise to Jim Michael, president of the Cacapon State Park Foundation — that the state would fund a $23.5 million renovation project at the Park.
The proposed renovation would add 71 rooms to the lodge, add an indoor swimming pool and enlarge and rebuild the dining halls, Michael said.
“We’re making it official,” Tomblin told Michael at the time. “Certifying the bond sale allows our development office to go forward with the sale. I had until the end of the year, but I wanted to do it today, so we could start getting down to bids. The sooner we start, the quicker the local people and tourists can use the renovated Cacapon. Visitors eat, sleep, play golf, and spend money at local businesses. I think that’s what it’s all about.”
Fast forward three years and the money is still being held hostage.
Jim Michael wants to know why.
“The Governor came here several years ago, had me have a meeting in our courthouse and he presented me with a plaque that the lodge would be built,” Michael told This Week in Morgan County. “I’ve got it at home.”
Michael says that he talks with the Governor’s staff and with local legislators.
The staff — “keep telling me about West Virginia’s financial difficulties.”
Michael said that all of the local legislators — including Senators Herb Snyder and Charles Trump — are supportive and are working to get the bond money released.
“But getting it through Charleston takes statewide support,” Michael said.
In a wide ranging interview, Michael told stories about growing up at the family farm on the corner of Winchester Grade Road and 522 — where his family had a dairy farm.
He worked for 35 years with the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Soil Conservation Service.
Michael said that the Morgan County he grew up in was predominately rural, with more than a dozen dairy farms (none today), more than a dozen tomato canneries (none today) and at least five major grocery stores (one today).
“In the 1930s and 1940s, a majority of the farms in the county grew an acre to five acres of tomatoes,” Michael said. “There must have been a dozen to 15 tomato canaries in Morgan County. Each of my grandparents owned their own canneries. And they would buy tomatoes from another 15 to 20 farms. They were canned and sold through warehouses out of Pittsburgh, Washington and Baltimore.”
Michael is vice chair of the West Virginia Conservation Agency Eastern Panhandle District.
Berkeley Springs had a history of flooding, Michael said. Michael said that as part of a pilot project, the Soil Conservation Service built a series of small dams around town that “stopped the water from flooding Berkeley Springs.”
“They went upstream and put in small dams that stop the runoff and holds the water and lets it out slowly,” Michael said. “There are eight of those dams around Berkeley Springs on small drainage ways or tributaries. Each dam has the ability to catch a 100 year rain without letting it run off. There is a storage area behind each dam to catch flood waters. It was one of the first small watershed projects in the United States.”