RONCEVERTE (WVDN) – Dan Withrow is excited about Ronceverte.
Every time we see the Ronceverte citizen out and about, he’s got good news to share about his hometown.
“Big things are coming to Ronceverte,” he’s been known to say, and he’s at it again; this time, inviting citizens to come check out the city’s new Parks and Recreation Master Plan.
Withrow serves as the town’s director of the parks and recreation committee, and his vision for the River City is that of an outdoor, recreational wonderland.
In a town that has been repeatedly flooded by the Greenbrier River, Withrow looks at the body of water as the town’s biggest asset as opposed to its biggest threat.
Withrow believes that the river, coupled with the city’s 20-plus acre Island Park, is the key to Ronceverte’s success.
“Island Park can be an economic hub for Ronceverte,” Withrow says.
Ronceverte Mayor Deena Pack and City Manager Pamela Mentz agree and have put their money where their mouths are, granting $26,000 in city funds to engineers E.L. Robinson to create a recreational master plan for the city.
“I’m grateful to Pam and Deena for their investment in the park,” says Withrow. However, the funding for the planning project was not just a favor to Withrow. He notes that whenever potential investors come to the city, the first thing they ask for is the town’s comprehensive plan.
“They want to know that we’re serious about growth,” says Withrow.
The Parks and Recreation Master Plan includes plans for repairing Workman Bridge, a dilapidated bridge that connects Edgar Avenue in downtown Ronceverte to Island Park. The plan indicates the rehabbed bridge will allow for pedestrian traffic while also serving as an emergency egress in case of flooding or other disasters.
Plans also call for a three-phase project to upgrade Island Park’s amphitheater with state-of-the-art design and a capacity of 2,500-3,000 people.
Withrow, who also was involved in last summer’s resurgence of the Skyline Bluegrass Festival held at the amphitheater, predicts that the festival will continue on every summer, bringing in larger crowds and bigger names while also creating a homecoming event for far-flung Ronceverte natives to come back with their families and visit their home town.
Withrow says the plan also calls for RV camping on the Island along with two or three campsites within city limits, all of which will generate revenue for the park.
On the plan’s capital improvements priority list are making Island Park a National Water Trail designation and access site, moving the boat launch from behind the amphitheater downstream several feet, completing a 9-hold disk golf course and community splash pad, and working toward replacing existing playground equipment with newer, accessible items.
Also, he says, Gateway Industries has committed to putting in a mini-golf course on the Island where the community garden, languishing for several years, currently stands. This should be ready by this summer along with the disk golf course.
The city also hopes to expand the L&R Trail from Ronceverte to near Tractor Supply by the end of the summer.
And how is all of this going to be paid for?
“Private funding and grant money,” Withrow says. “Ronceverte is designated as an economically depressed area, so there is lots of funding for projects.
“This master plan shows funders we’re putting our money where our mouths are,” he says.
Withrow also wants folks to know about the upcoming food truck festival on Ronceverte’s Edgar Avenue, set to take place on the second weekend of May.
Organized by local entrepreneur Alex DeGraff, Edgar Avenue will be closed for the food truck festival and, in addition to the food trucks, there will be live music, vendors and games such as ax throwing, skateboarding activities, disk golf, corn hole and human foosball (yes, we had to google it).
And finally, the Sportsman tavern will be open once again for business, under the ownership of Withrow and his business partner Mark Trent. This marks the third time Withrow has owned the storied bar.
Withrow says the Sportsman, also located on Edgar Avenue, is the oldest continuing bar in West Virginia. “And,” he quips, “some of us are dumb enough to buy it three times.”
The Sportsman, which has been a dark and dingy dive bar in years past, has been fully renovated, not just in appearance, but in theme.
“We want it to be a family-oriented location,” says Withrow, where folks can get off the river and come over from Island Park for a sandwich and a beer. “This is everybody’s bar.”
Withrow “retired” from his home inspection business three years ago, and, he says, a failed run for Greenbrier County Commission in 2020 fueled his fire for civic engagement.
“My campaign sparked an interest,” he says. “All of it — the park and buying the Sportsman for the third time — this is all happening for a reason. That reason is the future development of Ronceverte.”
Withrow and the city invite everyone to the Ronceverte Parks and Recreation Committee meeting on Monday evening, Feb. 6, at 5:30, to hear E.L. Robinson’s presentation of the Parks and Recreation Master Plan.
“We want everyone to come. This is a public project,” says Withrow. “We invite anybody and everybody to come and give their input.”