About 50 people met at the trailhead of the Alice Knight Trail in Coonskin Park Sunday at the invitation of West Virginia Rivers and West Virginians for Public Lands.
The group took a one mile hike to assess the potential impact on the park from a proposed expansion of Yeager Airport’s main runway.
Charleston resident and meteorologist Ken Batey told those present that the FAA‘s proposal to acquire nearly 400 acres of Coonskin Park for a valley “fill area” stands to destroy a local tourist attraction.
“Isn’t it kind of ironic that the state tourism picked this as one of their 30 sites in their waterfall tour of the state; see, they didn’t know what the county had planned for this,” he said.
The expansion would extend Yeager’s main runway by 285 feet and shift the parallel taxiway. Yeager Airport Director Dominique Ranieri said the FAA will look at alternatives as it considers the environment and impact on endangered species like bats.
“How we might achieve those standards – maybe without going with that proposed project and something else,” Ranieri said.
Heather Sprouse is the Ohio River Coordinator for West Virginia Rivers. A sixth-generation West Virginian and small farm owner from Putnam County, she said creating a large valley fill for the runway is ambitious at best.
“I think that the biggest thing is that people understand that this is public land, this is owned by Kanawha County, these are our public spaces,” Sprouse said. “I think there needs to be transparency, opportunities for people to make sure they contact the FAA with their formal comments.”
Sprouse said the public should be compensated for any loss of public land if the plan moves ahead.
Hiker Kathy Wiseman is from Charleston as well. She has enjoyed Coonskin Park for years. She said taking natural space to make room for more flights and bigger aircraft just doesn’t add up.
“I fly all the time, I’m up here pre-COVID, post-COVID: I’ve had many flights through Yeager. I’ve never missed a business meeting,” Wiseman said. “I’ve flown to San Diego, New York, Wisconsin, Minneapolis and all points in between and was always able to find a flight. We’ve always been able to find flights, early morning, late night flights, I fly out of Charleston exclusively.”
Wiseman wants to know the economics driving the expansion, including data showing the area’s projected population growth.
“Tourism is awesome here and why? It’s not because of our buildings, it’s because of our nature, and you’re taking nature from a city that desperately needs these types of places, here in Charleston.”
“Everyone wants to talk about the environment today, and mental health. Getting people out of their homes, out of their armchairs, off their couches – that’s mental health and that’s improving it and we want to restrict them to what – a golf course, to a pool that’s only open parts of the year, and to a road?”