A spirit of renewal fills the town of W.Va. which was flooded 5 years ago

WHITE SULFUR SPRINGS, W.Va. (AP) – Just two blocks from the spa town’s now bustling Main Street, Brad Paisley Community Park is an oasis of calm, its tranquility punctuated by bursts of laughter. ‘half a dozen preschoolers and mothers are quietly chatting nearby.

That’s the scene most of the time in this green space born from the 2016 flood, according to Pat Harper, president of the White Sulfur Springs Main Street organization that owns and operates the park.

“It’s just a place to get together – to enjoy your friends and neighbors,” said Harper, sitting in a folding chair in a sunny room inside the park’s community building. “We couldn’t do it without the city and the good citizens of White Sulfur who take such good care of this place. “

Brad Paisley Community Park was a gift from Homes for White Sulfur Springs at WSS Main Street. Many residents of Hope Village, a neighborhood built in the aftermath of the flooding by Homes for WSS, owned homes before the flooding on the land where the park now sits. These residents traded in their flooded property for a lot in Hope Village and a new start in life, high above the creek they had left behind.

Homes for WSS cleaned up flood-demolished homes from low-lying areas bordering the creek and in 2017 turned the plots into a park, which was named after country music star Brad Paisley. Originally from West Virginia, Paisley raised funds and donated a substantial amount to Homes for WSS for flood relief.

Homes for WSS also renovated two flood-damaged buildings in the park – one of which is now the community building – and donated the park and structures, as well as several other rental homes and income from loans made by Homes for WSS to help get people back to homes at WSS Main Street, creating a source of income for the Main Street organization.

“The park is a big step forward from what this part of town was like right after the flooding,” City Manager Lloyd Haynes said in a phone interview for this article.

He explained that converting the strip of property to a park was really the only permitted use for the land, as it is now considered part of the White Sulfur floodplain.

Haynes, the city’s mayor at the time of the 2016 floods, pointed out that Tom Crabtree founded Homes for White Sulfur Springs just days after the flood waters receded, and also led the park project.

Haynes noted that the Spa City-based team behind the Barnwood Builders TV show donated labor and materials for the construction of the elegantly rustic pavilion that is the centerpiece of the park.

The lodge and community building, which have a kitchen and a large covered patio overlooking the nearby stream, can each be booked separately or as part of an entire park rental for community or private events, a noted Harper.

Garden clubs, church groups, and civic organizations are among the groups that have held events in the park on Mill Hill Drive. Birthday parties, weddings and a recent Business after Hours event are just a few of the social gatherings the park has hosted in the four years since its inauguration on the first anniversary of the flood, the 23 June 2017.

“The park’s schedule is pretty much full until August,” Harper said. “We accept rentals informally. We want to maintain the price so that it is available to all residents of White Sulfur Springs.

In addition, the park served as a neutral and safe custody exchange site for separated or divorced parents, and the community building was used as a place for residents to complete flood-related documents, Harper said. Memorial services for the city’s deceased residents were also held in the serene and shaded space.

Luncheon for area military veterans held at the park during the city’s annual Memorial Day weekend dandelion festival this year stands out as “the best event ever,” according to Harper .

Income from the rental of the parks and other components of the funding stream put in place by Homes for WSS is spent on park maintenance and other Main Street programs and projects, such as a joint effort with downtown merchants to set up whiskey barrel planters downtown.

Harper pointed out that WSS Main Street is not a municipal agency. This is a non-profit organization that is responsible for all park expenses, including mowing the lawn and paying utility bills.

“We are looking to play a new role in the revitalization of White Sulfur,” said Harper. “The park is one of them. It’s open to everyone when not booked for an event, and we work to maintain certain standards to make sure it’s a place people want to come and feel safe.

Harper expressed pride in the progress the city’s businesses are making in the flood recovery effort, as storefronts fill up and sales kick in in the revitalized downtown shopping district.

“White Sulfur Springs wants to fill its niche, not emulate another small town,” she said. “We are developing our own identity, welcoming residents and visitors alike. People have come from all over to see what’s going on here. It is absolutely wonderful what is happening at White Sulfur Springs.

She added: “Main Street is a support for all the wonderful people who are making a difference here.”

Acknowledging the deep sympathy locals will always feel for the families of the seven residents of White Sulfur who perished in the floods five years ago, Harper said the optimism and spirit of renewal seen in the city today are a good sign of better times to come.

“White Sulfur Springs has been in mourning for years,” she said. “It’s time to look forward to the revitalization. Just keep moving.

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