Although he’s technically been in charge since March, Marshall Markley was officially named Superintendent of Cass Scenic Railroad State Park June 22.
Originally from Randolph County, Markley got his first taste of the tourism industry in Pocahontas County when he was in high school and college.
“I worked at Snowshoe for seven years,” he said. “I started in housekeeping, the swimming pool and then worked at the front desk for a number of those years as a bellman and a valet and worked in a couple of restaurants for very short stints.”
While he has always loved the West Virginia park system and was interested in a career with it, Markely went to college and received a Bachelor’s Degree in education and a Master’s Degree in social work.
“I worked at DHHR (Department of Health and Human Resourses) for ten years,” he said. “I was Child Protective Services (CPS) supervisor.”
In those 10 years, Markley worked in supervisory positions in several counties. He was also part of a pilot program to change the intake system for abuse and neglect when the state took over those responsibilities from private businesses.
All that time, Markley said he missed the tourism industry, and he finally decided to try to enter the park system, a dream he’d wanted to follow for a while.
“I always wanted to be in parks or something like this kind of work,” he said. “So maybe I didn’t take the typical path, but you’ll find as you meet a lot of superintendents, everybody has a different way of getting here. Some are very conventional, some of them are not. When I saw the chance to get back into tourism, I was really excited by that and that I got to be here. I’ve really enjoyed it.”
Markley began his parks career as assistant superintendent at Cass and instantly loved the job. When superintendent Benney McCune retired in March, Markley stepped up to the position and the responsibilities that go with it.
“I had a really good example in the previous superintendent that was here,” he said.
The timing of Markley’s new position couldn’t be more perfect. Usually when a superintendent takes his or her position, they have exciting new projects they want to implement or ways to improve current programs, but don’t always have the funding for those improvements.
But Markley said the West Virginia State Parks recently received a $60 million bond for projects, and Cass is one of several parks to get a large chunk of that funding.
“Cass got a significant portion – a lot of it for infrastructure – so water and sewer, things like that that people aren’t going to see, but are very important,” he said. “But there’s also a substantial amount for improvements in the company houses and on the park in general.”
The park has made a lot of improvements to the company houses in recent years, with 23 now available as rentals. There is still more to do, including installing new HVAC systems, remodeling kitchens and bathrooms and new furniture.
“We rent out twenty-three of the company houses,” Markley said. “Of those, only two had furnaces and air conditioning, so part of the bond project – every single house is going to have central air conditioning and furnaces. That’s in process. That part was contracted out. As a park, we’re working on doing renovations on seventeen of the company houses. They needed new bathrooms and new kitchens, so we’re using guys that we have on our crew to do work.”
Markley explained that the kitchens and bathrooms are both too small and needed to be modernized, to an extent, for the visitors.
“You have the original bathrooms that were really small, so we’re expanding those a little bit to allow for a shower and so you can orient yourself around the bathroom without running into things,” he said. “It’s a lot more comfortable. We are also planning to make the kitchens larger and more accessible for folks. There will be new cabinets, new floors and new countertops.”
The blend of modern and historic is a unique experience that Markley thinks visitors will really enjoy.
“It’s so different because you’re in this historic town, and you step back into history, but you’re able to go into your company house now and have this really welcoming experience where you’re consistently warm or consistently cool,” he said. “It’ll really change the face of the park. It’s going to change the experience for people who come here.”
Two of the company houses will be restored to the way they looked in the logging days of Cass, for visitors to tour. The Mountain State Railroad and Logging Historical Association will assist with this part of the project to ensure authenticity.
The appeal of the houses has reached the masses, as they are filled up most weekends throughout the year.
The improvements don’t stop with the company houses, as there is going to be a boost in recreational products at the park, as well.
With the recent bronze level IMBA [International Mountain Bicycling Association] Ride Center for Pocahontas County, Cass will be ready for the influx of cyclists from around the world.
“We’re going to have a bike repair station and a bike wash for people to use when they come down on the trail,” Markley said. “It will be really nice – a professional set of tools and then a nice professional bike wash.”
The park will also have rentals of bikes, kayaks and tubes for those enjoying the Greenbrier River Trail or the Greenbrier River itself. Not to deter from the historic appearance of the town, Markley said the structure for the rentals will blend well with its surroundings.
“We’re really being careful to make sure we don’t compromise the look of the town by having a whole bunch of boats and stuff sitting out, so we’re going to have to build some sort of structure that will fit in with what we have here, but still allow us to advertise that we have this,” he said.
Along with new products and upgrades, the park is also expanding the programs it provides. While the draw is the steam locomotives and the historic district, there are also lots of fun activities for visitors of all ages.
“You can also hike the Allegheny Trail or ride the Greenbrier River Trail, and we have a partnership with the Green Bank Observatory – when folks come and stay here – they get two free passes for the GBO, so that relationship has worked out really well,” Markley said.
“The stocking of the river was new this year, and it was really exciting,” he continued. “We had a lot of people when they stocked for the Gold Rush. We had two-hundred-fifty-to-three hundred people here. It was crazy. It was wonderful. It’s a cool experience for everybody.”
The Gold Rush – fishing for golden trout – was a great success that Markley hopes to continue as an annual event.
“We’re trying to get people to look at the park as a hub for tourism, and see that there are things to do other than ride the train,” he said. “Of course, people come here just to ride the train and sit on the porch, which is just fine, too.”
Whatever it is that draws you to Cass, one thing is certain – you will meet a very happy superintendent.
“It’s a really exciting time to be here, and I’m glad I came into parks when I did,” Markley said. “I just happened to come in at a time where I’ve got enough time to get the experience and also see Cass through this bond project. It’s good to be a part of that whole experience and get to see that through.”
Suzanne Stewart may be contacted at email@example.com