The City of Charles Town officially christened a new nature park housed on a former brownfield site and kicked off the first piece of a large-scale project in its urban center.
Once the home of the Supertane gas works, the property is set to be called Perry Fields, in honor of Charles Town resident Roger Perry, his wife Wanda, and their family. An official ribbon-cutting ceremony occurred in June and featured representatives of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection (WVDEP), as well as officials from local governmental agencies.
“This project results in the City obtaining key parcels of land in the west end of Charles Town,” said Councilwoman Ann Paonessa. “When combined with the existing Evitts Run Park (and surrounding City-owned parcels, including the Public Works Yard and former Dixie Narco parking lot) this allows for the development of a linear park that connects these existing parcels with the City parkland at Craighill Estates and Happy Retreat.”
Scott Rogers, the newly inaugurated mayor of Charles Town, calls Perry Fields, also known as the Evitts Run Conservancy property, a “boost” to the City, and believes it will positively influence “the local economy, property values, and the livability of the community at large.”
The Project as It Stands and Looking Forward
The new nature park is adjacent to Evitts Run and is the first step in a much larger revitalization effort centered in the western part of Charles Town.
“This piece, which will probably always have less amenities due to the [geosynthetic] cap, is a key connection between Evitts Run to the north and Craighill Estates to the south,” noted Seth Rivard, Charles Town’s city planner.
Rivard alluded to the plans to include more amenities on other parts of the future parkland, like an amphitheater, a community lake, and a native plants and trees area. He also explained that plans are in the works to connect the Craighill Estates trail to Happy Retreat with a bridge.
“This could be a great walking trail opportunity in the center of town. “I think you can see that the development of this trail from one end to the other is a great community amenity. This is the crux of this project.”
Todd Wilt, interim city manager, highlighted the positive impact to the community relating to the remedying of the existing environmental concerns, left over from the property’s time as a gas works.
“The Evitts Run Conservancy site that was revitalized with this project is one more Brownfield site that has been cleaned up in our community. Together, Charles Town and Ranson have worked hard over the past fifteen years to clean up numerous sites like this one.”
He continued, “The EPA and WDEP have proven wonderful partners in cleaning up our community and putting these abandoned industrial sites back into productive use.”
Wilt and Rivard both acknowledge the project is just in its first stage, and much more is set to come. “There is some substantial funding coming together to make improvements at the existing public works yard, directly adjacent and north of Evitts Run Park,” said Rivard. “[These improvements will include] installing the community lake, park amenities, and a bridge across the creek from what is now the public works yard to the skate part in the old Dixie Narco parking lot.”
Rivard advised that while some funding for these changes has been secured, there is still more to raise, and plans may alter slightly depending upon the funding available. “We anticipate that we will start some of this work in late 2017 or early 2018.”
During the ribbon-cutting ceremony, outgoing Mayor Peggy Smith announced a further Brownfields project—approximately 500 yards north of the old Supertane site.
According to a press release by the city, the 12-acre plot is “occupied by the community’s long-vacant former drinking water reservoir,” as well as the old parking lot of the Dixie Narco plant.
Paonessa attributed the collaborative approach all parties have taken as one of the elements of the success the advancement of the project has found. “It took a great deal of partnership to bring this project to fruition,” she indicated. “The collaboration of the EPA, WVDEP, City Council, and Wanda and Roger Perry was key in bringing stakeholders around a common vision for the project.”
Paonessa also stressed the efforts of former Councilman Matt Ward, who acted as the City’s consultation in relation to the environmental elements of the project.
Early Days of the Site
According to Doug Perks, resident historian at the Jefferson County Museum, in 1881, the Charles Town Gas and Water Company “purchased Lot 138 on the southeast corner of South Mt. Parvo Avenue and West Congress Street.” The Charles Town Gas and Water Company constructed the future Supertane facility on this parcel of land.
A press release from the City of Charles Town asserts the facility was constructed to “gasify coal in order to create fuel for local streetlights, house chandeliers, and businesses.”
Perks points to local news reports of the time, which stated: “We [citizens of Charles Town] have been without gas for twenty years, but by the time old Santa Claus makes his next round, he will doubtless find our streets, business houses, and dwellings lighted with gas.”
Once the plant was opened, Perks says reports suggested the product “furnish[ed] a beautiful light and [has] to some extent dispelled the uncomfortable darkness which heretofore enshrouded the streets at night.”
Thirty years after the 1881 purchase of the property, “most of the streets in both Charles Town and Ranson were ‘piped’ for gas,” said Perks. “Under the management of Carl Riddleberger, the Charles Town Gas Company had the capacity to store 42,000 feet of ‘high-grade gas.’”
The plant was renamed Supertane at some point, and operated until the 1950s. Due to the nature of its work, toxins were left on the site, and it eventually became classified as a brownfield.
According to the City of Charles Town, the EPA ordered Supertane to “conduct an emergency clean up” in 1984. The full scope of the contamination wasn’t remedied, and in 2008, further cleanup measures were demanded.
The site was declared a brownfield, “a property whose expansion, redevelopment, or reuse may be complicated by the presence or potential presence of a hazardous substance, pollutant, or contaminant,” according to the EPA.
The Brownfields Program was created by the EPA in 1995; the agency estimates there are more than 450,000 sites (nationally) that match the criteria. The agency argues “cleaning up and reinvesting in these properties protects the environment, reduces blight, and takes development pressures off green spaces and working lands.”
Thanks to the Brownfields Program, the City of Charles Town secured $900,000 in cleanup grants between 2011 and 2014. The City asserts that the results of these cleanup efforts “will protect public health and the environment for the long term.”
According to a press release from the City, the completed work “includes a permanent geosynthetic cap on the polluted area, and the use of a large ‘rain garden’ facility to prevent storm water or brownfields pollution from entering the Evitts Run Creek and eventually the Shenandoah and Potomac Rivers, and the Chesapeake Bay.”
Efforts to Recognize a Community Leader
The City of Charles Town is moving toward formal action to name the new park in honor of Roger J. Perry and his wife Wanda. Perry is a retired Charles Town attorney and prominent community member.
Councilwoman Paonessa called the Perrys “key” players in the effort to not only clean up the property, but also in converting the site to parkland. The City cited the donation of “more than 20 acres of land on the Evitts run Creek” as well as the contribution of “significant funding” for the project, from the Perry family.
Perry practiced law for several decades in Charles Town, and served two terms in the West Virginia House of Delegates, from 1969-1973.
Those who wish to view Charles Town’s long range plan for the Perry Fields property and adjacent parkland can visit the town’s website to view maps and read a copy of the Charles Town West End Revitalization Plan at: www.charlestownwv.us.By H.S. Leigh Koonce