BECKLEY, W.Va. — The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has awarded a $500,000 grant to the New River Gorge Regional Development Authority to remediate a former refuse dump adjacent to the historic ruin of the Alfred Beckley Mill.
Beckley Mayor Rob Rappold, president of the authority, said that remediation effort will afford better access to the mill site, a scenic locale that is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
“This initiative aligns with the region’s current comprehensive economic development strategy and will serve as a future focal point within the city’s outdoor economic development planning efforts for the Piney Creek Park,” Rappold said.
The mayor said multi-purpose recreational benefits include access to the Alfred Beckley mill site, which is located on Piney Creek in the gorge below the former landfill.
“Remediation will also allow expansion of walking and hiking trails to connect to the nearby New River Gorge National Park and Preserve trails and other park areas including existing soccer fields, various playgrounds, and related outdoor recreational use areas,” he added.
Jina Belcher, executive director of the authority, said the area to be addressed is an eight-acre site on New Jersey Avenue and Worley Road in the southeastern section of Beckley overlooking the Piney Creek Gorge.
The landfill operated from the 1950s until the early 1980s and was used by the City of Beckley for landfilling waste materials. Since its closure in the early 1980s, the site has remained unused.
Beckley councilman Tom Sopher, who spearheaded the effort to preserve the mill, said the mill site is among the most scenic in the area and was integral to the development of Beckley.
"Beckley founder Alfred Beckley established the mill to attract investors to the community in the early 1800s, and that was a chief reason the site was listed on the national register," Sopher said.
However, the site is also important as a scenic resource, providing visitors a chance to experience a naturalized environment that is also surprisingly near the city.
"It's amazing that you are minutes away from civilization, and the walk down to the mill takes you into a different time," Sopher said. "To me, it's just breathtaking."
Ironically, the development of the dump largely preserved the mill site from development by inundating the road to the mill with debris. The Piney Creek Watershed Association and Raleigh County Historical Society joined forces to preserve the site and see it added to the register.