In 1950, the state Department of Education established an educational retreat on more than 200 acres of donated land near Ripley in Jackson County.  What followed was the Cedar Lakes Conference Center, which has hosted thousands of meetings and retreats for students and adults over the years.

Many West Virginians have fond memories of camps and retreats there.  Additionally, people from across the state and the country have journeyed to the pristine and bucolic setting for the annual Mountain State Art and Craft Fair.

Cedar Lakes is important to the local economy. About three dozen people work there, and local businesses benefit when visitors come to the retreat.

So it’s understandable that when the Department of Education says it may have to cut funding for the beloved camp to meet a possible budget reduction, people become upset.  Rallies are held, a “Save Cedar Lakes Conference Center” Facebook page pops up and supporters turn up at the state Board of Education meeting.

But Cedar Lakes, for all its charm, has issues, most of which were detailed in the recent Education Efficiency Audit by Public Works.

Cedar Lakes is not self-sustaining.  About one-third of its budget—$1 million—comes from a state Department of Education subsidy.

Employee costs are high.  State law mandates that Cedar Lakes employees are paid comparable to school personnel, which is higher than salaries in the hospitality industry.  The audit found wages are 45 to 50 percent above the average at competing facilities.

The retreat is underutilized by the state.   Cedar Lakes gets only a fraction of the annual conference and training business from the Department of Education and the rest of state government, even though it’s only 40 miles from Charleston.

The public doesn’t know about Cedar Lakes.  A 2008 study by Marshall University found “a lack of awareness by potential visitors of the range of services that are offered.  Before you can expand any business, potential customers must know you exist.”

These may be solvable problems, but not by the state Department of Education.  Its hands are full trying to fulfill the Constitutional mission of a thorough and efficient education for our children.

The audit suggests Cedar Lakes would be better managed, “by a department with appropriate resources, expertise and mission to such an endeavor, such as the Department of Administration, or even the Department of Education and the Arts.”

Maybe, but would another government agency be any more successful in the conference business?

Cedar Lakes officials told the auditors that it’s extremely difficult to operate the center as a business. “The constraints associated with state government procedures and policies sometimes limit management’s ability to function effectively.”

Naturally, the best way to make ends meet at Cedar Lakes, or any other conference center, is have the private sector run it, but it’s going to be hard to find a willing buyer for a place that’s losing money.

This is a painful but necessary debate about the costs and obligations of government.

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  • David Kennedy

    We need more gambling casino's.
    How about making it the KING of the HOT SPOT'S.
    An 800.000 Square Feet Red and Yellow casino that can be seen from the space shuttle.

    Cedar Lakes is a dead turkey...its time to demo and start over.
    The idea of an RV park was the best idea I saw on the comments page. have a great weekend.

    • GregG

      Use the land to build a mental hospital. This country sure could use some mental institutions. It could provide the mentally troubled people some much needed help, make our communities safer and provide good paying jobs that would help the local economy. Or maybe a Veterans hospital.

      • tfisher

        how about a drug rehab center?

        • GregG

          Sorry, I'm not a supporter of drug rehab. I have no sympathy for people that choose to use drugs. No one held a gun to their head and forced them to use drugs so I don't believe that "we the people" should pay the tab to rehab them.

          • Gob

            Drug rehab = mental health. It's the attitude that addiction is a choice that perpetuates the problem and is not becoming better, even in the least.

  • Walsingham

    Stonewall seems to have a brisk business. Allow the state to own it and a private hospitality business to operate it. If the deed requires it to be used for education purposes, those organizations would have the first opportunity to book events for a discounted rate. Tourism and hospitality continues to grow in the state. This seems like a no "brainer" to turn a negative into a positive.

  • bulldog95

    Lets put a toll on the the interstate to keep it running...

  • vashti

    i agree with you hoppy it does need to be reviewed however it could be very successful if it was run by another department. as has been previously mentioned the state park system is run very effectively and the conference centers do quite well. i can't figure out why when there is a conference in charleston every little whipstitch they aren't using this conference center more often. it isn't that far and could be upgraded with some really cool tech stuff to make it more attractive. it just needs to be run by a department that specializes in that area. if they want to use it to train people for hospitality jobs that could be worked out between agencies. if the Education Department wants to have conferences there they could certainly still have them there.

    as for the idea it is being closed due to political reasons i just don't think that holds any water. i don't think most folks even know where it is or that it exists. the only thing they see is a hole in a budget that needs to be filled.

    • J.R. Skene

      But state parks conference centers are not designed or mandated to be profit making ventures. It would be adding another revenue drain to a system that is not self sufficient in the least.

      • vashti

        i beleive they do make money. i am not sure but i can't imagine that they don't at least break even.

        • J.R. Skene

          65-70% self sufficiency. Last report I saw showed two of the state parks being profitable- Blackwater and Twin Falls.

  • mntnman

    Its all about choices, about where we want to spend money -- about taxes, and economics, etc. We have some tough choices to make; do we have the will to make them?

    We subsidize state parks, colleges, local airports, local post offices, etc. We have to start deciding whether we want, need and/or can afford all these things. If we do, then we all pay more in taxes. It is a choice.

  • Alice Click

    What about the many thousands of tourists who have visited the Arts & Crafts fairs for the past 50 years?
    Cedar Lakes is an important educational conference center.
    Now, if this center was in Gayle Manchin's would not be considered for the chop block... and the fact that Jackson County tends to be Republican?

  • Shadow

    Make it an RV Park, it is off I-77 and relative easy to get to.

  • Jim N Charleston

    Jim N Charleston 5 pt plan

    1. Change the name to Jackson Hole.
    2. Pour some $$$$ into remodeling so the place doesn't look like the original Friday the 13th was filmed there.
    3. Have a "Buck Wild" reunion with the cast not in jail & invite some of the detractors like a certain US Senator, a County Commissioner, & a Golden Shovel knowitall Mayor.
    4. Plant cameras around this new crystal lake and supply a lot of free alcohol like any reality show.
    5. MTV, History, or VH1 will be all over this show.

    Before ya know it, there will be political scandals & the place will have enough tourism to expand and progress from slots to table games & to even have a golf course. They may even admit a secret Bunker is under 1 of the lakes.

  • George P

    Though I have no problem with Cedar Lakes, I don't think our needs or can afford the number of conference facilities we have. Seems like a $1million subsidy for a few jobs to me.

    • The bookman

      An under utilized facility with state mandated labor costs 45/50% above industry norms? Could be a great opportunity for someone...the labor costs alone represent 400,000 of the million dollar deficit...under the proper management it could easily be profitable...all I would say is that it isn't a function of the State BOE...better suited as a public private partnership in state parks or private sector all together..always be careful about throwing around it's just a few jobs when you are talking about someone else's livelihood...if there is a way to keep them without subsidy why dismiss it?

  • David Stanton

    The state runs other conference centers successfully for example: Chief Logan, Stonewall Jackson, Pipestem, Canaan, etc. Seems to me they should all be under the same umbrella.

    • GregG

      Correct me if I'm wrong, but hasn't the state on more than one occasion had to move money just to "bail out" Stonewall Jackson. I don't remember all the details, but for some reason I remember Manchin had to help Stonewall stay afloat. Maybe someone could refresh my memory. I do know that in my area the Lake was often mocked for being built to sever as a "Richman's Campground". Unfortunately, most rich folk don't camp or appreciate the smell of fish on their manicured fingers.

      • mntnman

        To my understanding, Stonewall has never made a profit, and it is subsidized to the tune of over $1 million per year, perhaps more. I have been told that but never seen it in writing. My source was informed on the matter.

        • GregG

          Thanks you mntnman. I had heard things along them lines, Seem they even bought a bunch of million dollar house boats thinking they would make money renting them, but then had to sell them. Not sure about that either.

    • mntnman

      Stonewall Jackson is also subsidized by the state -- it does NOT make a profit or even break even.

  • Wowbagger

    Cedar Lakes should either be a State Park or a university conference center. Although I have no problem with it, the last time I can clearly remember attending an event there has to have been an Independence Day in the late 1970s or early 1980s. I frequently think I should go there on the Fourth of July some day, but always have other things to do.

  • GregG

    I'll give you an A+ Hoppy for using the word bucolic.

  • Habib Haddad

    Have you noticed how well the state parks system is doing? Most lose money. Adding Cedar Lakes, which I find a delightful place, would only yoke a money losing enterprise with more loss.

  • AnxiousEER97

    For a small state, we seem to have a lot of conference places. Public sector or private sector, most "conferences" in my experience appear to be a waste of time and resources.

  • The bookman

    Sounds like a state park! Let them run it...they certainly have a template for success in the several they already Canaan, pipestem, cacapon..may be some legal issues surrounding deed restrictions but they certainly could be resolved...with all the issues confronting the state board of education, the last thing they need to be involved in is turning around a floundering business in the hospitality industry!!! Kudos to Dr. Phares and those on the board for trying to do the right thing by focussing on their mission and purging those things that distract them from their goals!

    • Grant

      Well said. Very good post.