By Stephen Baldwin, RealWV
March 2, 2023
As Director of Parks and Recreation for the City of Ronceverte, Dan Withrow is the man with a plan. A master plan, to be more precise, for restoring The River City.
“My dream is for you to ask your kids where they want to go spend the day, and the kids tell you they want to go to Ronceverte,” Dan offers. “Good things are happening here. We’re creating something unique.”
The Master Plan
Dan’s good friend, Bruce Bowling, is Mayor of White Sulphur Springs, a town that has seen significant growth and revitalization recently. Dan asked him how to start. Mayor Bowling told him that while it sounds counterintuitive, he needed to spend the money to create a master plan. That’s precisely what local officials in Ronceverte did, and Dan gives them credit for seeing the bigger picture.
“I started just by driving people around town in my car showing them my vision and the potential for the city,” Dan says. “But I really didn’t have a clear idea how much potential is actually here until we got the ball rolling and got the plan done. The potential is endless.”
Because of the town’s proximity to the river, Dan thinks it holds a unique appeal. With affordable housing, river access, and local government willing to make changes, Dan sees a bright future ahead.
“The park is the key,” he says. “So the plan is all about maximizing river access at the park and connecting that to the town and residences.”
An old bridge connected downtown Ronceverte to the park in years past. It closed many years ago after becoming unsafe for vehicular and then pedestrian traffic. It crosses the railroad tracks, directly connecting 219 to the Island Park along the Greenbrier River.
“Picture is painted with new lighting, outdoor dining, and live music,” Dan dreams. “You could drive your golf cart from town to the river. But if we can’t get the bridge repaired, then we lose a large percentage of what we want to do. It’s job number one.”
The train station
CSX has played a large role in the town’s history for decades. They still own the train station in town, where six of their employees currently work. The master plan anticipates the train station being converted to a dining and market space.
“We are working with our federal representatives and CSX to see if this is a possibility,” Dan says.
The current amphitheater floods often and hasn’t been renovated in decades. “We plan to raise the stage and get it up higher out of the river’s path, add additional seating, and create a grass area at the base which won’t be affected as badly when it does flood,” Dan says.
The Skyline Music Festival was held here for years. Dan and a group of locals worked to bring it back last year. “It will be bigger and better than ever this year,” Dan promises.
Eventually, they want the main stage to hold capacity for 3,000 people and add an additional stage with seating for another 3,000 to the north of the property.
The Island Park
Turning attention towards the Island Park itself, Dan plans numerous major upgrades, mostly to benefit young people. “If you do something for kids,” he says, “you are doing something for the whole community’s future.”
A splash pad will open this summer. The town is pursuing grant funding for new playground equipment. A 9-hole disc golf course is being planned along the river. Gateway Industries is developing a mini golf course, with holes featuring historical elements from the town. A new boat launch behind Mullican Lumber is being explored. An RV campsite on city-owned property is in early development. Walking and bike trails along the river are being expanded, including connecting the L&R Trail to the Greenbrier River Trail. And last but not least, Dan is recruiting an outfitter to provide rentals of kayaks, paddleboards, and tubes for folks to utilize the river.
“To go to the next level, we needed a plan,” Dan remarks. “We’ve been piecemealing it and that can’t work long-term.”
Dan concedes that he dreams big and these plans will take time and money to materialize, but he believes it is possible. Last month, he and his business partner Mark Trent opened The Sportsman Tavern. He said he wanted to show people that it was possible. Business has been good so far, and they are planning to have food trucks along Edgar Avenue every weekend beginning this spring.
“I know the money is there,” Dan says. “I’m a dyed-in-the-wool Roncevertian. This can truly be something special.”