The individuals and businesses supporting and promoting tourism and Pocahontas County were recognized at the annual Pocahontas County Chamber of Commerce dinner Saturday night, at the Pocahontas County Opera House.
Each year, the chamber selects an Individual of the Year and Business of the Year for their service and contribution to the communities in the county.
Chamber board member Ben Wilfong introduced the Business of the Year – Durbin & Greenbrier Valley Railroad – with a brief history lesson on owners John and Kathy Smith.
“Railroading in the mountains surrounding Elkins and Durbin, West Virginia, should be relegated to the history books,” Wilfong said. “However, thanks to the foresight of the state of West Virginia and the energy of this gentleman and his wife and partner, railroads are alive and well in West Virginia and Pocahontas County.”
DGVR was founded in 1996 and expanded to include the train at Elkins in 2006. The railroad continued to grow and improve on the types of excursions offered to rail enthusiasts and tourists from all over the world.
“In 2007, DGVR partnered with new local attractions in Elkins to create major marketing initiatives that put Elkins on the tourist destination map,” Wilfong said. “Since that time, the company’s increased ridership on both Elkins and Durbin departures from 23,000 to 46,000. The addition in 2011 of multiple special events, most significantly, the national franchise Polar Express train ride, a Warner Bros. product, catapulted the company in tourism demographics and broke the barrier of tourist train ridership.”
DGVR added specialty rides: The Cottontail Express, in Elkins; the Great West Virginia Train Race, at Spruce; and the Wild West Weekend, in Durbin.
Most recently, DGVR signed a lease agreement with the West Virginia Rail Authority and West Virginia Department of Natural Resources to operate the Cass Scenic Railroad, beginning January 1.
“This new partnership opens added opportunity to connect the rail line from Elkins to Cass – not only opening a brand new excursion for 2015, but also creating an opportunity to feature new special events and new overnight options,” Wilfong said. “With the ability to connect rail lines, the Durbin & Greenbrier Valley Railroad can now offer a brand new product to the tour market which again will bring an increase tourist count and higher hotel/motel tax to Pocahontas County.”
Accepting the award, John Smith said he is looking forward to the future of railroading and connecting DGVR with Cass.
“We do appreciate the fact that Pocahontas County has a bright future from the railroading standpoint with what’s happening with Cass,” he said. “We’re looking forward to additional groups and individuals staying in the county. We’re really excited about it. As we look at the Cass situation, it can only grow from where it is now and I think that we have the staff up there at that place to make it work. The people of Pocahontas County have a great work ethic. We’re looking forward to working here even more to connect these lines together.”
Chamber president Mike Holstine announced the Individual of the Year – Gail Hyer. Trying to keep the secret until the last minute, Holstine spoke of the many services Hyer has provided to the county.
“This is one of the hardest working individuals that you will find in Pocahontas County,” he said. “This person is always promoting the good in the community through various organizations they are involved in. They go out of their way to help, often taking on projects on personal time to make sure that the event or the project gets completed.”
As the marketing specialist for the Pocahontas County Convention and Visitors Bureau, Hyer may be seen at any and every function in the county, offering a helping hand or taking photos to promote the event.
“It’s not uncommon to find this person actually in the dirt, literally, to get a perfect photo of let’s say the Greenbrier River Race, or hiking day and night on a re-enactment from Lewisburg to Droop,” Holstine said. “She’d rather be doing than talking.”
Hyer came to Pocahontas County while researching her genealogy and stayed for the charm and beauty of the county she now promotes.
Hyer is involved in the Genealogy Group, Pearl S. Buck Board of Directors, GoMarlinton, Chamber of Commerce, Pocahontas County Historical Society, Little Levels Heritage Fair, Pocahontas County Nature Club, Autumn Harvest Festival, RoadKill Cook-off and Marlinton Rotary Club. She also organized donations for the Marlinton fire victims and a benefit for fire departments after the 2013 fire.
As Hyer took the stage, she stated, “I am flabbergasted.”
“I am surprised,” she continued. “I am humbled that you think what I do matters, but I must tell you, as a volunteer I accept this on behalf of the army of volunteers in this county. We have a fabulous place to live and part of that is because we have people who take their own time and their own money and their own effort, and step up and do the extra to make it a great place.”
As part of her acceptance, Hyer asked the crowd to do her a favor.
“I’m going to ask you – over the next couple weeks or months – whenever you see a volunteer doing something in this county – and you’ll see them, they’re at your tables – I want you to go up to them and say ‘thank you. I appreciate you. I appreciate your time.’ Tell them that what they do matters.”
Hyer started the “thank yous” by thanking Roger Trusler and Freda Jackson for their work as volunteers in the community.
Speaking on behalf of the Chamber, Holstine told members that the chamber is trying to expand on the services it offers to businesses in the county and asked for suggestions on how it can better do that.
“We have strived in the last couple of years to do some things to make us more visible or to make us more available to the population outside of this county, but also inside this county,” he said. “We are a community of small businesses. You’re sitting in this audience today. You are the economic driver for what we have here, and we appreciate what you do.”
Holstine also spoke about a recent event that occurred at a local business and shocked members of the community. Two weeks ago, the Pretty Penny Café in Hillsboro was vandalized by an individual who spray painted a racial slur on the side of the building.
“I’m sorry Blair Campbell can’t be here, but we had an incident I think everyone knows about,” he said. “What I want to say to you goes beyond the incident with Blair and goes deep into our everyday lives, especially our business lives.
“We don’t all have to agree with one another,” he continued. “Heck, we don’t all have to like one another, but we all have to respect each other. Everyone in this room who has a business works their tail off to make sure that that business provides for their family, provides for the families of their employees and we all need to recognize and respect the amount of effort that goes into that. I know that everyone here feels the same way. We want to be united as a business community. We want to see Pocahontas County prosper because it’s the only way we as a business community can prosper.”
Guest speaker for the evening, President and CEO of CityNet, Jim Martin, gave a presentation on the services provided by CityNet, including a brand new broadband project at Snowshoe Mountain Resort.
Martin talked about how CityNet is working with other Internet providers in the county to ensure that everyone in the county has the opportunity to get broadband in their homes and businesses.
An article about the Snowshoe broadband and other projects will be in next week’s edition of The Pocahontas Times.
Suzanne Stewart may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org