During the meeting, the court approved a motion to assist the Harlan County Outdoor Recreation Board in the amount of $180,000 by using adventure tourism coal-severance money.
The outdoor recreation board’s proposal, which was first detailed at the fiscal court’s previous meeting, includes several upgrades and additions to the Verda Field.
“We would like to ask for a vote for $180,000 for stage one of that proposal. Also, should there be any funds left over that are not utilized later — that they are considered for that (the proposal) to move into stage two,” said Ronnie Daniels, a member of the Kentucky Mountain Crawlers.
District 5 Magistrate Jim Roark suggested expanding the adventure tourism industry to include the county’s various waterways.
“I have had a lot of interest from a lot of people about the rivers being cleaned up quite a bit and some entries into the river at different places for boating, fishing, canoeing and other activities that go along with that,” Roark said.
“That is a great idea,” responded Mike King, the chairman of the Harlan County Outdoor Recreation Board.
“As the main river gets cleaned up, there will be kayaking and canoeing possibilities there,” said Harlan County Judge-Executive Joe Grieshop.
David Kennedy, the magistrate of District 3, asked how the project would be funded.
“I don’t have a problem with helping these fellows out, but I want to know where we are going to get the money to do it,” Kennedy asked. “They are asking for this adventure tourism money, which we have already voted to set aside — and correct me if I’m wrong — up to $150,000 for that Evarts High School, and then we voted to set aside another $125,000 to prop up these (attractions in the Tri-Cities).”
“The Evarts High School thing, we just said we would assist. I think we have a question as to whether you can spend that particular money on that particular project. The other project (the Tri-Cities attractions) even has questions, and I have to meet with some people next week about that. This is direct adventure tourism, there is no denying that,” Grieshop responded.
Grieshop said there was another avenue for the city of Evarts to acquire the Evarts High School building.
“There are other opportunities to get money because the multi-purpose center was sold for a third of a million dollars, and there is a group in town that has that money plus the interest that came with that,” Grieshop said. “I think the Evarts community needs to come together and look at all of those monies and put them toward that school. If they really want to build community, that is their opportunity to build it in a genuine way.”
Grieshop also emphasized the importance of assisting the Harlan County Outdoor Recreation Board with the project.
“I feel that to do nothing for this group would be absolutely wrong. We know the other two are still dancing,” Grieshop said.
“What are we going to do if the city of Evarts comes back with a bill of $100,000 for the Evarts High School?” asked Kennedy.
“I asked the mayor (Burl Fee) what he was doing about that building. He said, ‘I am waiting on you.’ I said, ‘No, you’re not waiting on me,’” Grieshop said.
“Well, then, there must have been someone else sitting in my seat that day I discussed that $150,000,” Kennedy responded.
Grieshop later asked for a motion pertaining to the request of the Harlan County Outdoor Recreation Board.
“I think basically you are making a decision whether to move forward and move up in adventure tourism or if we are just saying that we will just ride it out and do nothing. I think that is where we are at,” Grieshop said.
The motion was then approved to fund the project in the amount of $180,000.
Kennedy then asked for a roll call vote regarding the motion.
“The vote is already done,” Grieshop responded.
“I didn’t get to vote on that,” Kennedy said.
“I didn’t get to,” District 2 Magistrate Chad Brock added.
No roll call vote was granted.
The court later heard from property owner Duane Bennett Jr., whose family owns the property where the Black Mountain Off-Road Adventure Park is located.
“It was from a meeting that we had with the lieutenant governor (Daniel Mongiardo) after a trip on our park, that we stressed to him that we needed money down here for maintenance on that park and to do a lot of things with outdoor tourism,” Bennett said. “He seemed a little frustrated with Harlan County and the moves that they were making. Since the idea originated in Harlan County, it seemed like they were running behind other counties. It was from that discussion that the money really came back down here.”
Bennett asked what the fiscal court is doing to improve the property his family is currently leasing to the county.
“My frustration as a land owner who has a lease with the county is, what are you doing toward our property from a maintenance and commitment standpoint?” Bennett said. “Our family has made a tremendous commitment to support this for Harlan County, and we think it has a lot more potential than what is going on right now.”
“What I think is missing out of the proposal is security, maintenance, signage and stuff that goes to the park. I am just wondering where the commitment is. Where are the priorities?” Bennett continued. “I am not saying these other things aren’t important. But if you want to talk about outdoor tourism and what has created the interest and what has created people coming into the area and what this money was designated for, I am just wondering what the priorities are. As a land owner, I am questioning that.”
Bennett added that he thinks the park is serving the purpose for which it was designed.
“That lease is a big part of why people are coming here. The Bennetts think that mountain was God-given to us, and we have the right use for it,” he said. “We are not in it to make it difficult. What we are in it for is to make it bigger than what it is.”
“We cannot be compensated for work we do on the mountain without a long-term lease. We just found that out last week,” Grieshop responded. “The second thing is that we were on the cutting edge when we started this, and while some people may be critical of how we have done or have not done, this was new, cutting- edge work that we have done. We are learning and we will, hopefully, be able to come together with your family and have a good agreement.”