When the mass exodus of people into Belmont County from Texas, Oklahoma and other far-off places began several months ago, they encountered one perplexing problem - finding a rental home, a place to park a recreational vehicle or even a camper.
A partial solution to the temporary housing problem will be coming in the near future with the establishment of a recreational vehicle park almost in the center of the county that is rapidly being developed into a base for production of oil and gas from the Marcellus and Utica shale resources.
A group of concerned citizens and business leaders have banded together to transform a 20-acre site in Morristown into a parking area for recreational vehicles and campers.
Janey Doan, owner of the Doan Ford automobile agency on Ohio 149, just off historic National Road in Morristown, confirmed such a project is in the making and she walked with me to the edge of the parking lot of her dealership and directed attention to the open acreage to the west.
"We're going to start by developing just a couple of acres," Doan noted. "Then we'll expand it further as we get requests for space." The acreage extends westward from the Doan dealership to a car wash located next to the Ohio Department of Transportation county headquarters; then northward from Bond Street, which goes from Ohio 149 to the ODOT office, to the near National Road.
"We'll have access to 15 acres of the property," explained James Grear of Barnesville, who, with Doan, is a member of a management team that was formed to oversee the project.
"The size of the park depends on the demand," Grear explained. "We'll build as needed. There's space for 275 vehicles and the whole site will be developed if there is a demand." He emphasized that house trailers will not be admitted into the area.
"This will be strictly for RVs and campers." Grear had high praise for the location, describing it as an ideal one "because there are all services available - water, sewage, electric and wireless Internet." In addition, he pointed out, "there's a medical center nearby, a pharmacy, food market, restaurants, the Doan dealership, and a school right across the road. There's everything one would need within a quarter of a mile of the park."
Access to the park would be from the southern end of the acreage at Bond Street. Grear, who serves as a Warren Township trustee, said a minimal amount of excavating will be required to prepare the site for parking campers and RVs. Work to develop the area will begin immediately and Grear and his associates hope to have the area ready for occupancy by June.
More than a dozen pieces of heavy equipment swung into action with a flourish on the grounds of Fox Commerce Park west of St. Clairsville last week, to begin work on a corporate office building for Chesapeake Energy, one of the many firms involved in the Marcellus and Utica shale exploration activity in Belmont County.
Taking advantage of ideal weather condition, operators of bulldozers, graders and earthmovers kicked off the mammoth earthmoving operation almost at the stroke of dawn Monday. By the latter part of the week much of the landscape of the acreage south of the FedEx headquarters had been altered. A large area had been leveled and workers indicated that would be the office building site.
But much work remains to be done by Beaver Excavating Co. of Canton, which has the site preparation contract. The foreman of the project, who chose to play a low-profile role and not have his name mentioned, told me "around 50,000 cubic yards of earth" are being moved to prepare the site for construction of a single office building.
The building site is immediately south of the FedEx terminal. While there are more than a dozen pieces of equipment on location, the project foreman said his work force consists of "eight to 10 men." He added the site preparation work should be completed in six weeks.
When Chesapeake closed the deal in October to purchase 28 acres of land in the industrial park, a large segment of the land was located at the extreme northern end of the park, opposite FedEx and nearest to I-70, which is visible from the site.
Asked if the Beaver firm's excavation work would be extended to that northern site, the project foreman said he was not certain. That site, located in the vicinity of the lake that is part of the industrial park complex, has been staked out but no earthmoving has taken place.
There is a tentative November date for completion of the office complex, which reportedly will include one building south of the FedEx terminal and reportedly two or three other buildings across the road from FedEx. In the meantime Chesapeake has set up a temporary office in a building in Morristown that was purchased several weeks ago at a sheriff's property foreclosure sale.
Chesapeake paid $300,000 for the 28-acre site, the largest land sale inside the park by the department of development/CIC since it was established. At the time the transaction was being finalized, a spokesman for the energy firm told the commissioners "We're really looking forward to having a presence in Belmont County. People will see - as work progresses - that this venture will be good for both Belmont County and for Chesapeake."
Thirty-one Belmont County organizations will share in the $59,000 in individual grants awarded by the Belmont County Tourism Council for promoting tourism related activities. A total of 35 applications for the grants ranging from $500 to $2,500 were received by the council.
Recipients of grants were organizations in Bellaire, Martins Ferry, St. Clairsville, Morristown, Barnesville, Powhatan, Shadyside, Barton, Colerain, and Flushing. A check presentation ceremony will be held on Tuesday at 2 p.m. at the tourism office in the Ohio Valley Mall. Representatives of the various organizations may pick up their grant checks at that time.
There's a sizeable portion of the population of Texas that has an almost daily visual contact with a memento that reminds them of Belmont County.
On the cover of the Southwestern Consolidated telephone directory that serves much of the southwestern part of the state, is a picture of a Texas Longhorn cow and calf not from Texas but from Belmont County. Photo credit on the cover lists DCCI, the Dickinson Cattle Co. Inc. of Belmont County.
Darol Dickinson, general manager of the ranch near Barnesville where as many as 1,100 cattle roam, was thrilled with the photo display in Texas but not totally surprised. "As a DCCI service to printers, free stock photos are available at no charge for calendars, post cards, tourist promotions, magazine, etc." he pointed out. "All we request is a photo credit with our name and address."
"Why not use Texas Longhorn photos for a Southwestern pone book with an Ohio scene? It makes sense," Dickinson offered. "Several million of these books were printed and distributed to everyone with a phone." He said there are 113 professional photos available for the various businesses to make a selection.
Even though short shorts and skimpy clothing normally suited for July and August were forced into use by last week's unseasonably hot weather, it is not a signal to permanently put away warmer clothing. In fact, there is a forecast for freezing temperatures this week.
And it is possible we could have snow. I can remember on May 9, 1966, there was a pretty heavy snow, around three inches, but it didn't stay around very long. I remember it well because it is my birthday.
Al Molnar can be reached via email at: email@example.com.