CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Hundreds rallied together Sunday to help save a beloved thousand-acre Charleston greenspace.
The Save Coonskin environmental group held a rally at the park in protest against West Virginia International Yeager Airport’s potential runway expansion plan that would extend one of its runways into the park via mountaintop removal.
After having already held an information day at the park, garnered the support of over 11,000 people on a recent petition, as well as having future plans to continue reaching out to lawmakers on the issue, the movement decided a rally at the park would be one of the most impactful ways of letting their voices be heard.
“It feels like mother nature is on our side blessing us with a beautiful fall day and the people are starting to roll in,” a Save Coonskin Park group leader, Beth Segesseman told MetroNews at Sunday’s event. “Everything is coming together, and it’s just an amazing feeling to be able to celebrate this place with people who also agree that we should save it.”
The hundreds there Sunday supporting the movement all have one major thing in common– they love Coonskin Park. With that, they want no harm to come to the park and fear that’s what would happen if the airport follows through with the expansion plan.
The group asserts nearly 400 acres of Coonskin would become inaccessible to public use, with another close to 450 acres essentially getting destroyed.
They claim the park’s mountaintops would be stripped down many feet and the valleys filled with the leftover dirt, debris, and rubble.
In addition, Segessemen said this would jeopardize the health of the environment as well as the needs of the community in having the vast greenspace the park offers, as it’s a treasured rarity for the area.
“There’s so much of the park that we love, all of the trails, the upper park, the woods and the shelters, and Gorman Shelter where we are today would be gone if this proposal went through, so we want people to learn how it not only threatens our park but our community,” said Segesseman.
Several people got up and spoke for the main part of the rally, sharing more about specific areas in the park that are threatened from the proposal.
One person who spoke was Kanawha County resident Judy Spradling, a direct descendent of Calvin Spradling who was one of the area’s first settlers in about 1840. He has a cemetery located in the woodlands of the park where his family is buried, Judy Spradling said it’s one of the areas at risk of being destroyed if the proposal would go through.
“This is my ancestors, we want to honor them, they were laid to rest here in this park forever, and we can’t allow them to be destroyed,” Spradling said.
Along with the need to protect the property her family’s cemetery is on, Spradling said she was going to be talking about the history of the estimated 170 year old cemetery, which is located near the Wildlife Trail in the park.
CRW released a statement a couple of months ago about the runway project and the environmental impact study they are currently conducting with the FAA to assess if it would be environmentally feasible to move forward with the project at the park, stating they are looking to find a solution that would benefit all parties involved.
“The FAA will consider all reasonable alternatives of the project with a full and fair discussion of the significant environmental impacts of the Proposed Action. West Virginia International Yeager Airport (CRW) is committed to operating our facilities in an environmentally responsible manner to conserve the existing resources unique to CRW while also providing a safe and pleasant experience for the public at large, and the Airport’s customers, vendors, and staff. We’re working to prepare the airport for the future of aviation, to ensure CRW can continue to serve as the gateway to West Virginia and the world by retaining and attracting additional air service.”
Segesseman said in the meantime the group will be waiting on the results of that environmental study, and continuing to try and garner more signatures on their petition to save the park, as well more support for the movement as a whole.