July 28, 2008

Renovated Beckley Exhibition Coal Mine Opens Doors

By Darst, Paul

BECKLEY - After being closed for the entire 2007 season, the Beckley Exhibition Coal Mine has reopened with new attractions.

Officials dedicated a $3.5 million, 14,000-square-foot building June 30. The Rahall Company Store houses an expanded coal museum, visitors' center, gift shop and fudge store, said Renda Morris, executive director.

"It's a replica outside and inside for the for the most part," Morris said. "Our gift shop is in there. Some of it doesn't resemble an old company store because of the way it's set up.... We got it as close as we could.

Congressman Nick Joe Rahall, D-W.Va., who helped secure funding for the project, spoke during the ceremony.

The new company store building allowed for a larger museum, Morris said. The museum contains new display cases, kiosks and exhibitions. The museum contains coal mining artifacts, tools and photographs.

Morris expects a lot of visitors this season despite high fuel prices, which could keep some families at home, she said.

"I don't think it will affect us that much," she said. "Families will find a way to get away somehow."

Many of this season's visitors could be those who live in the Beckley region, Morris said. People who grew up around the mine and have visited in the past now have a new reason to pay a visit, she said.

The mine complex is home to not only the new company store, but also the mine, which takes visitors up to 1,500 feet below ground, and a replica coal camp. The camp includes a school, church and coal superintendent's house.

The grounds also are home to the Youth Museum of Southern West Virginia and New River Park. The Youth Museum includes a blacksmith shop and a country store. New River Park includes an Olympic pool, tennis courts and a campground.

"We always have something going on," Morris said.

The exhibition mine's season runs through Nov. 1. Even before it closes for the season, the staff will be busy getting ready for the Christmas holiday season. Since about 2000, the mine has hosted holiday lights tours of the mine. They not only decorate the coal camp and other buildings, but also underground inside the mine itself.

"It's a big event," Morris said. "HGTV featured it in 'Small Town Christmases.' We decorate the whole complex. We're really going to make it special."

Information about the Beckley Exhibition Coal Mine is available at www.beckleymine.com.

Copyright State Journal Corporation Jul 11, 2008

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