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Official: MSFF markers to return to federal plaza

Agreement reached with government

ELKINS — Mountain State Forest Festival officials have removed all the MSFF commemorative markers from the plaza of the Jennings Randolph Federal Center, but reached an agreement with the federal government to allow the markers to return to the plaza next year.

“We have actually managed to work out a deal with the GSA that they will be remaining there,” Robbie Morris, this year’s director general of the Mountain State Forest Festival, told The Inter-Mountain Wednesday.

“We had to move them for construction purposes. So myself and a group of assistant directors, over the course of three nights, moved all 83 stones. They are at the Festival office now, and they will remain there through the winter until the spring.

“The construction, I understand, is supposed to take place through the end of this year,” Morris said. “We are going to have the stones cleaned and pressure washed, and in the spring we’ll move them back over and place them back into the federal plaza.”

Earlier this month, the U.S. General Services Administration, also known as GSA, contacted Forest Festival officials and asked them to remove the markers. GSA manages federal properties around the country.

In a July 8 email to The Inter-Mountain, GSA officials said the MSFF was asked to “permanently remove their commemorative pavers prior to the start of construction.”

“Yes, they did change their mind,” Morris said Wednesday. “They said the editorial in (The Inter-Mountain) and the public response … They said it was a misunderstanding on their part, they didn’t understand the Forest Festival and what it was all about. So they said, ‘Here are our concerns and what we’re looking at,’ and so we talked through it, and we have an agreement that the stones will be returned once construction on the plaza is concrete.

“It was very excellent news.”

On July 10 The Inter-Mountain published an editorial about the MSFF markers situation titled “Bad Decision.” The editorial included the phone number and email address for the GSA’s manager for the Jennings Randolph Federal Center and other West Virginia properties.

For decades a new marker, featuring the names of that year’s Queen Silvia and director general, has been placed in the plaza at the end of each MSFF closing ceremony.

Cricket Leary, MSFF Board president, said she was pleased with the new agreement with GSA, noting, “As far as the Festival is concerned, I think this is a positive outcome.”

There had been uncertainty about where the MSFF opening and closing ceremonies, which are traditionally held on the plaza, would take place in the future.

“If we were having the traditional opening and closing ceremonies this fall, then they would have to be moved,” Morris said. “But since we’re not having a queen or court or minor court this year (due to the COVID-19 pandemic), they won’t be official opening and closing ceremonies.

“We’re going to have a Forest Festival kick-off party downtown, with a chili cookoff, instead of an opening ceremony. But next year, we’ll be able to have the opening and closing ceremonies at the Federal Plaza.”

Morris said removing the stones was more difficult than expected.

“We had to hurry to remove them. I believe the construction is starting in August,” he noted. “The stones are a lot larger than any of us realized. They’re about 150 pounds each, and there’s 83 of them, so that’s about six tons of stone.”

This year’s Forest Festival is scheduled for Oct. 2 through Oct. 10 in Elkins.

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