Could Franklin rec center be a model for Marlinton?
Marlinton is a town where the sidewalks roll up at 5 p.m. and there's not much to do for fun. Many small communities suffer from the same lack of entertainment options. The problem is more than aesthetic because young people with nothing to do often seek excitement using alcohol or drugs.
The Allegheny Recreation Center (ARC) holds concerts and dances on some weekends, but hasn't reached its potential as an entertainment center.
A young Buckeye woman, recovering from a drug problem herself, thinks a bowling alley and otherﾠ attractions, built in the ARC or another location, could provide Pocahontas County with a valuable community gathering place.
Teressa Schoolcraft made it her mission to generate interest in building a bowling alley-based recreation center in Marlinton. She thinks the Potomac Highlands Recreation Center (PHRC) in Franklin is a model of what Pocahontas County could have.
Schoolcraft has discussed her idea with several community leaders, including Bill Rock, COO of Snowshoe Resort; Sheriff David Jonese; Cheryl Jonese of the Prevention Coalition; Laura Young of the Family Resource Network; Lauren Bennett of Parks and Recreation and Coby Brown, executive director of the Snowshoe Foundation. She attended the CreatePocahontas meeting last Wednesday to inform that group of her plans.
The Buckeye woman also spoke with ARC partners J.P. Duncan and John Fitzgerald about the possibility of building a recreation center inside the old shoe factory building. ARC currently houses a flea market, pizza shop and a concert/dance area, but is only open on weekends.ﾠ
Encouraged by members of the community, Schoolcraft traveled to Franklin on April 19 to talk to the people who started the PHRC project and the manager who has operated the PHRC since 2000. During her visit, she obtained a wealth of information on how that community got their recreation center up and running.
Between 1992-1998, a dedicated group of Pendleton County residents banded together and raised $800,000 to build the PHRC, which has become a popular and self-supporting gathering place for people of all ages.
Foremost among that group was Dr. Lucas Eye, now retired, who practiced family medicine in Pendleton County for more than 50 years. As well as beloved small town doctor, Eye is known locally as "the guy who got us the bowling alley." The PHRC was Eye's brainchild and his leadership saw the project through to completion.
The PHRC contains a 12-lane bowling alley, a roller-skating rink, a game room, a small gym, a miniature golf course and a snack bar. The center was built entirely with donated funds, material and labor. A non-profit corporation, established for the purpose, owns the PHRC, which is entirely self-supporting.
Eye originally envisioned the center as a place to get young people off the streets. He initially estimated the cost of a recreation center at $250,000 and set out to generate support and raise funds.
"I thought, if I could get 1,000 people to give $200, I'd have $200,000, he said. "I set out, just going door-to-door through our community. At first, my idea was to just talk to people and see what they thought about it. Not only was I soliciting $200, but I wanted them to hear what it was all about and get the community interested in it.
"I spent probably a year or two just doing that - nothing but going door-to-door and getting people's ideas."
After developing a concept, generating community support and forming a non-profit corporation, Eye and a core group of believers, including wife Jane, led a fundraising effort that spanned more than six years.
The group raised funds with pig roasts, yard sales, raffles, a pledge drive, dinners and obtained contributions from individuals, businesses and civic groups. In six years, the group raised $800,000 to complete the center.
It was a true community effort that ultimately made the PHRC a reality. Local businesses provided free materials and services. A local car dealership, in the process of relocating, donated a large amount of steel siding from its old building. Volunteer workers erected, wired, plumbed and completely outfitted the large metal building.
"We had a crew of maybe six or eight volunteers who were really faithful, Eye said. "They were up there all the time. Then we had numerous volunteers involved with it - probably hundreds."
Six-and-a-half years after the doctor started walking door-to-door, PHRC opened its doors to the public. It's now a very successful operation, drawing customers from a 30-mile radius, including Monterey, Virginia and northern Pocahontas County.
Eye is optimistic that a community center project could be successful in Pocahontas County.
"I think you'll be all right," he told Schoolcraft. "The main thing is just to keep enthusiastic and don't get discouraged."
Eye's family and friends recently celebrated his 80th birthday party at the PHRC. It's a popular place for parties and other events. The snack bar food is highly recommended by members of the community.
After visiting Eye, Schoolcraft visited the PHRC and spoke with manager Richard McLaughlin, who provided information on the nuts and bolts of running a successful bowling alley and rec center.
According to McLaughlin, the snack bar (more accurately described as an informal restaurant) is the most profitable operation, generating more than 70 percent of the PHRC's $480,000 annual revenue. A large part of the snack bar revenue comes from deliveries, including meals delivered to local schools. The snack bar helps to support the bowling alley, which McLaughlin said is expensive to maintain.
Schoolcraft spoke with several customers at PHRC, who stressed the importance of the facility to the community - and praised the good food.
She would like to see Pocahontas County rally in support of a recreation center, like Franklin rallied behind the PHRC. She will hold a public meeting June 16 at 6 p.m. at McClintic Library, when she will discuss her ideas with members of the community. She has invited Eye to discuss his successful project in Franklin.