The Pocahontas County Convention and Visitors Bureau has hosted a tourism luncheon for the past several years as part of National Travel and Tourism Week. The program was given a slight facelift this year and on June 8, the CVB hosted the inaugural Tourism Summit at the Pocahontas County Opera House and Discovery Junction.
The event included a tourism by-the-numbers presentation by CVB Executive Director Cara Rose, a report on the Snowshoe Highlands IMBA Ride Center, including plans to go for a Gold designation and updates on the Monday Lick and Mower Basin trails development; and briefs from the Pocahontas County Broadband Council and Housing Task Force.
After all the information was shared and applauded, it was time to celebrate those who have contributed to the tourism industry in Pocahontas County.
CVB Special Projects Grant Manager Linda Adams was recognized for her 25 years – and counting – with the tourism industry.
The 2022 Tourism Person of the Year award was presented to Bill McNeel, Editor Emeritus of The Pocahontas Times and founding member of the Pocahontas County Historical Society.
Ruth Taylor, 2014 Tourism Person of the Year, read a letter written by McNeel’s son, James, as she introduced him to the audience.
“The honoree was not born in Pocahontas County, though both his mother’s family and father’s family have long roots, going back to the area’s first European settlements,” she read. “Father from Hillsboro. Mother from Marlinton. You know – a long distance relationship back in the day.”
McNeel spent his summers in Pocahontas County, lending a helping hand at the family’s business – The Pocahontas Times newspaper. He earned his college degree in geology in Ohio and returned to Pocahontas County to teach at Marlinton High School.
“Other than a short stint away in the mid-seventies, he has made the county his home and his own, but not just for his own pleasure or pursuit, but as a documenter, sage and scribe, helping ensure its past and present remain preserved for generations to come – including being one of the founding members of the Pocahontas County Historical Society in 1961, and remaining its longest serving member to date.”
McNeel and Chisel Sheets spent two years turning the Hunter House on Route 219 into the county museum, and he was the Historical Society’s president at the age of 24 when Pearl S. Buck and West Virginia’s governor cut the ribbon to celebrate the museum’s grand opening.
That short stint away from the county was spent in Australia where he met an English Rose – Denise – whom he has been married to for 46 years. The couple returned to Pocahontas County to raise their son, James, on the family land from his mother’s side.
Along with being a founding member of the Historical Society, McNeel was also a founding member of the Mountain State Logging and Historical Association.
“[He] remains an in-demand voice for the train and logging history of the region – with two published books and an epic tome stretching out in development for more than forty years of writing and research,” Taylor read. “Especially the Chesapeake & Ohio branch that served as the Greenbrier River’s driving ‘engine’ – pun intended – for nearly a century. A true expert in this particular slice of life, he also helped preserve the Marlinton Depot – not once, but twice.
“His authorship and writing does not end with the history of railroads,” she continued. “It covers all facets of history and culture in West Virginia, serving as a guide and inspiration for families and visitors alike. His knowledge and words are voluminous, having written huge swaths of ‘The History of Pocahontas County – 1981,’ a sequel of sorts to his ancestor William T. Price’s ‘Historical Sketches of Pocahontas County;’ hundreds of visitor placards on local history for displays and exhibits around the county; and thousands of column inches in The Pocahontas Times – much of it shaped old-school style via handset type, which he learned in high school – his family’s business, at which he was editor for twenty-five years.”
McNeel also wrote countless entries – and corrected even more – for the West Virginia Encyclopedia as a board member of the West Virginia Humanities Council.
As well as being a historian of his beloved Pocahontas County, McNeel has been a conservationist, much like his grandfather Cal Price, who had a State Forest named for him.
“He has helped preserve the county’s beauty as a founding member and long-time board member of the West Virginia Highlands Conservancy and advocate in Charleston and Washington, D.C., to save our most necessary natural assets,” Taylor read. “Further, he’s been a long proponent for seeing local industry shift from pollution and timber to skiing, biking, hiking and adventure.”
McNeel received a standing ovation as he made his way to the podium with Denise and James by his side.
Referring to his grandfather, Cal Price, McNeel joked that organizations should be cautious when selecting honorees, for they never know what they might learn about their past.
“There are certain things you have to be careful about when you honor someone,” he said. “Like my grandfather said when Cal Price State Forest was named for him. Of course, he was an early conservationist and concerned about the protection of our county and area, but on the other hand, he thought eagles were a danger to our farmers, so if you look in my background, you’ll probably find something that will disqualify me for this.”
All joking aside, McNeel thanked the CVB and all those in attendance, saying he was honored to be named Tourism Person of the Year.
“The thing my grandfather said when he was honored with the naming the forest – he’s ‘sinfully proud,’” McNeel said. “I feel very much the same way.”