Throughout the next year, West Virginia Public Radio will bring you stories about two communities in West Virginia. These are Matewan and Grafton. These towns were selected as part of a special “Turn This Town Around” project. Grafton is starting its journey.
Grafton is the county seat of Taylor County and it’s got a little more than 5,000 people living in it. It was selected as the winner of the West Virginia Focus Magazine’s Turn this Town Around project, along with Matewan in Mingo County.
These two towns—representing the northern and southern parts of the state-will undergo a community development process over the next year, designed to do a few key things.
This includes getting the towns to look better, as well as solving problems in the community. Kent Spellman is with West Virginia Community Development Hub, one of the collaborators on the project.
"We always find that the first step in turning a community around is engaging the citizens, in the conversation about how they are going to do it, what they want to do, and why they want to do it," said Spellman.
Grafton recently held a meeting with 35 city leaders, residents, and other members of the community to get the ball rolling. Officials shared what they have been hearing about the Turn this Town Around Project, and also started giving ideas of what they would like to see happen. Mostly, this includes expanding recreational opportunities at Tygart Lake State Park, which they say is one of the area’s most important tourism spots. Jennifer Murray who attended the meeting is with the Taylor County WVU Extension Office. She says exercise and fitness are things she wants to see expanded too.
"We’d like to be able to identify streets and sidewalks that folks can use for physical activity during the warm weather months. Hopefully we can get some kind of indoor recreation complex for citizens in the future. But go ahead and focus on what we can do in the immediate future. We have plans to do a competitive walking program this summer that will help maybe turn around our community’s health as well," Murray said.
Murray says Grafton and Taylor County are collectively facing some tough challenges when it comes to health and wellness.
" There’s a lot of chronic disease here in this community. Diabetes, heart problems, and being able to get folks the information and access to physical activity so they can make changes to improve their chronic disease, or prevent them in the future," said Murray.
There’s a process of steps these communities will have to take to get some of these things done. It’s something Kent Spellman says will take time.
"The first step is always civic engagement, getting the community to come together and reach consensus on what they want to do. The second part is to actually show success, measurable success, in accomplishing some of the projects they have identified. We realize that there will be some immediate projects that we can get right on, there are going to be some intermediate projects that are going to take a bit longer to do, and there’s going to be some projects that are big and are going to take years to fully accomplish," said Spellman.
Grafton is going to be holding a much larger community meeting, on April 28th at Grafton High School. There will also be a community clean up day in May, which is probably Grafton’s busiest month. That’s when the annual Memorial Day Parade takes place, which is always a large event, and the Mother’s Day Celebration.
West Virginia Public Broadcasting is a co-collaborator on this project, with West Virginia Focus magazine and the West Virginia Community Development Hub.