ON?TRAC?looks at downtown lighting

Elkins business owners and community members gathered Wednesday at the Elkins Depot to discuss ways to better decorate the town and attract Durbin & Greenbrier Valley Railroad’s Polar Express Train visitors to venture into the downtown businesses. The meeting was a wrap-up session hosted by Elkins ON TRAC.

John Smith, president of the Durbin & Greenbrier Valley Railroad’s Polar Express, said more than 10,000 people came to Elkins to ride the train during the 2012 holiday season. Smith said there is the potential to have 14,500 riders for the next season.

The group agreed that some things during the 2012 holiday season worked well, such as the workshops in the businesses, and other things need improved.

“It is really dark on the side of the Elkins Depot facing downtown, and we need to find a way to attract visitors into downtown,” Smith said. “The Christmas lights helped but ultimately, it is not inviting enough to encourage visitors to go down the block. We need to make it friendlier looking.”

Carol Carter asked about having a survey presented to folks as they left after the train ride. Smith said there has been no survey, but there was positive feedback on Facebook. Smith also said he has a database of email addresses from those riding the train.

Smith told attendees that so far, 2,200 tickets have been sold for the 2013 season of the Polar Express train rides.

“Missy McCollam and the performers do a wonderful job keeping up the energy and keeping everyone engaged,” Smith said.

Hoy Ferguson asked the group what activities they think visitors enjoyed and which ones needed updating.

“I think the bonfire was enjoyable and low maintenance, but it was only on Sunday evenings,” said Kathy Vance. “I wish we could do that more nights so train riders had the benefit of enjoying it. Big city kids don’t get to have this experience. I also think the location is an issue; it is very hard to see the bonfire from the train.”

Another idea was to purchase a large tree to decorate, and Vance suggested it be a real tree.

“If it is artificial, storage is an issue,” she said. “Also, they cost $1,500 and if it is vandalized, that is a big loss. We also need to make sure anchors can be installed in the ground around the pavers in the square.”

Martha Metheny suggested that more Christmas decorations be purchased that can be placed up high, thus eliminating the possibility of vandalism.

“Most of the older buildings on Davis Avenue and Third Street have hooks on the sides of the building where decorations can be hung,” Amy Schumacher said. “It would also be a good idea to see if the Christmas decorating could be coordinated with the removal of Forest Festival decorations, which would be a great time-saver.”

Vance suggested that the pamphlets for the Santa’s Workshop be posted online. She and Elkins City Councilwoman Nanci Bross-Fregonara, 4th Ward, agreed that if the schedules were online, parents might add those to their travel plans.

“75 percent of those traveling to ride the Polar Express are from out of state,” Smith said. “They come from D.C., Northern Virginia, Pittsburgh and Charleston.”

Smith said that another obstacle is that people do not want to leave the Elkins Depot for fear of missing the train ride. Ferguson added that trying to cross Railroad Avenue is an issue with cars traveling 35 m.p.h.

Elkins Mayor Duke Talbott reminded attendees that the city received a state grant Monday for new crosswalks, including ones in front of the Elkins Depot.

Ferguson set another meeting for noon on Feb. 6 at the Elkins Depot. He asked that anyone who has ideas or comments email him at hferguson@davistrust.com.

“I would like to make things happen,” Ferguson said. “We did well (last) year and I think we could do even better this year.”