News Column

Town of Sophia a Blueprint Community

Jan. 15, 2013

Wendy Holdren

The town of Sophia has been selected to be a part of Blueprint Communities, a collaborative community revitalization effort which will potentially boost economic development for the area.

Officials met at Sophia Town Hall Monday to discuss what being a Blueprint Community means and how to outline a plan of action.

Andrea Salina, director of Community Strategies for the West Virginia Community Development Hub, said the Federal Home Loan Bank of Pittsburgh has previously helped 10 communities in the state in 2007 and this year will offer its services to Princeton, Bluefield, Marlinton, Richwood, Hinton and Sophia.

These areas are expected to receive an influx of visitors with the arrival of the Boy Scouts of America and the development of the Summit Bechtel Reserve, which is well under way.

FHLBank Pittsburgh invested approximately $1 million in West Virginia, Pennsylvania and Delaware between 2006 and 2009 and, during that time, leveraged more than $112 million in additional community improvements. The reported community investments have topped $200 million.

The Blueprint Communities' mission is to foster strong local leadership, collaboration and development capacity, as well as helping the community create a clear comprehensive plan and encourage investments from public and private funders.

Salina met with Sophia Mayor Danny Barr, councilman Gary Basham, businessman John Fanary, fire chief Jeff Pittman, deacon Don Farley and businesswoman Patty Miles.

Everyone agreed that the town has not had a comprehensive plan update since the 1990s.

"This is 'Community Development 101.' We will assess the needs here and tailor a plan to how you see your community in the future," Salina said.

Dilapidated buildings will be addressed, as well as recycling and other beautification projects.

Housing facilities and more recreational activities will also be discussed and possibly added to the agenda.

Leaders from each of the six areas will meet every other month at Tamarack for training through the end of the year. They will learn how to grow local leadership, map assets, market and communicate the community's goals and put their plan into action.

"It works and we've proven that. I feel really energized and I feel like I have the right people here," Salina said.

The group tossed around ideas for a team name; they all seemed to be leaning toward "Winding Gulf Gateway."

Fanary suggested using the already established railways to create a loop through Raleigh, Mercer, McDowell and Wyoming counties. Not only would it be a great activity for the Boy Scouts, Fanary said, but it could promote tourism in these four counties. Trains could be used not only for transport, but as a murder mystery, polar express or dinner train adventure.

Farley also suggested creating a community center in Sophia where the local Boy Scout and Cub Scout troops could congregate.

The first Scout cabin in Sophia was relocated, log by log, to a higher elevation to prevent flooding, Farley said. Since then, the Scout program has flourished under the leadership of Scout Master Tony Wheby.

"We had 15 boys a year ago, and now we have almost 50," Farley said.

He said many of the Cub Scouts are almost eligible to become Boy Scouts, so a larger facility is a great need that Blueprint Communities could possibly address.

All of these ideas and more will develop over the upcoming months as the teams create plans for revitalization.


Distributed by MCT Information Services

Source: (c) 2013 The Register-Herald (Beckley, W.Va.)

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