Guest Essays, Opinion

Guest essay: BOPARC should go even bigger

by JoNell Strough

We, the members of the Mon Valley Green Space Coalition, applaud BOPARC’s recent big plans.

But in order to ensure the long-term sustainability and prosperity of our community, those plans should be bigger.

As The Dominion Post reported recently, BOPARC intends to revitalize the Morgantown Ice Arena, which has long needed an upgrade, and to build a new pool in Marilla Park, which would feature even more attractions than its current Marilla Park pool. We are in favor of this, even at the high price (upwards of $20 million for the ice rink; between $7 million and $9 million for the pool).

But instead of stopping with the rink and pool, BOPARC should add two projects to its list.

First, BOPARC should purchase the 28-acre property now for sale on Green Bag Road (and bordering White Avenue and Decker’s Creek Boulevard) that is essential for Morgantown’s long-held desire to create a southern greenbelt trail in the city to connect neighborhoods, parks, rail-trails and city center.

There is also a long-held vision of a northern greenbelt, which, likewise, should be a BOPARC — and a city — priority. As Morgantown grows, its public parks must grow, too.

Second, BOPARC should commit to restoring and then maintaining all its existing parks and recreational facilities. For example, anyone who has taken a walk in White Park recently understands how desperately this precious Morgantown resource needs rehabilitation. Between MUB’s work on its new waterline, which required the removal of hundreds of the park’s trees, and the unchecked proliferation of rogue bike trails, White Park looks blighted.

It makes no sense to build a brand new pool if BOPARC’s existing properties and amenities are left in such a sorry state.

BOPARC should build its pool, upgrade its ice rink, and ensure that all the parks now in its care are restored and maintained to a condition worthy of a great small American city like Morgantown.

Just as important, BOPARC should commit to realizing both the southern and northern greenbelts around the city. The first step should be to purchase the property on Green Bag Road, which is currently listed at $1 million. The city could potentially negotiate a lower price in exchange for tax incentives. Federal grants are also available.

There are strong arguments for why a Morgantown greenbelt isn’t only desirable but essential:

1. Morgantown traffic is notoriously bad. A connected trail system in the city would offer our community a safer way to commute to work and school or otherwise move around the city.

 2. Automobile traffic contributes to poor air quality in our community and carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. A greenbelt would help to mitigate the ill effects of pollution that  can cause and/or exacerbate asthma and other respiratory illnesses. as well as help to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

3. The establishment of a greenbelt would encourage walking, hiking and biking — healthy outdoor recreation and exercise. Recreational outlets, including BOPARC’s pools and the ice rink, are crucial to the well-being of our city, which, like the rest of our state, suffers from high rates of obesity and diabetes. Without a greenbelt, many of Morgantown’s existing recreational facilities must be accessed by automobile.

4. Turbulence overseas, most recently Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, creates unnerving fluctuations in oil prices and therefore gasoline prices. Traveling to work or elsewhere via a greenbelt is a low-cost (essentially free) alternative that facilitates independence from foreign fuel.

5. More connected green spaces in Morgantown would enhance our efforts to become a premier green tourist destination as well as a place where professionals who can telecommute to their jobs might choose to live.

Ice rinks need repairs or they fall apart; pools become old and outdated. A Morgantown greenbelt — and all of Morgantown’s parks — will last a long, long time. It’s time we invested in them.

JoNell Strough, a professor of psychology at WVU, is the chair of the Mon Valley Green Space Coalition.