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Kanawha County parks officials want to speed up cleanup of Coonskin Park

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Members of the Kanawha County Parks Commission voted to adopt emergency purchasing guidelines Wednesday that will speed up the process of hiring contractors and, in effect, hasten the cleanup of Coonskin Park after June 29's devastating derecho.The massive derecho windstorm that tore a swath of destruction several states wide devastated Coonskin, ripping trees to shreds and dropping limbs and trunks hundreds of years old all over the entire park.Parks officials cleaned up as much of the damage by themselves as they could, but Parks Director Jeff Hutchinson said he doesn't have the equipment or people to handle the massive damage from the storm.Hutchinson estimates storm damage at the park at more than $300,000.Hutchinson said many trees are still hanging high overhead in the woods, too dangerous for untrained crews to remove. He said officials from the Federal Emergency Management Agency have twice been to Coonskin, and couldn't believe the extent of the damage.Parks officials don't even yet know how badly the park's trail system was damaged in the storm. "We haven't been able to get to the trails," he said. "This is going to be a big job."Parks officials had hoped to reopen the upper part of the park, which incorporates most of Coonskin's picnic shelters, in August."We're still closed," said parks commission president Anna Dailey.On Wednesday, the parks board voted to adopt the state's guidelines for purchasing in disasters. The rules allow parks officials to suspend the normal bid process.
Parks officials will still seek competitive bids for cleanup work at the park, but the emergency guidelines will allow them to pick a contractor much more quickly. Hutchinson hopes to be able to pick someone to clean up the park by the end of next week.But he said it would be next spring before the upper part of the park reopens. The upper shelters close in October anyway, and Hutchinson sees no way the park can be cleaned up by then.Parks commission member John Huddleston asked if some of the downed trees might be salvaged for lumber, but Hutchinson said he doubted it."[The damage to] a lot of trees was like an explosion," he said. "It's like someone dropped a grenade down the middle of them. It looks like toothpicks."It's the most awesome natural disaster I've ever seen."Also Wednesday, parks officials gave provisional approval to allow the park to be used for a haunted trail.
Andrew Blessing, co-founder of the nonprofit group Zombie Frogz Inc., asked for permission to run a haunted trail at Coonskin on Oct. 19, 20, 25, 26 and 27. He said those running the trail are volunteers, and the proceeds will go to charity.Hutchinson said there would be virtually no cost to parks officials to allow the trail, and said the idea would create another recreational activity at the park. Members of the parks commission voted to allow the trail if Blessing could get an insurance rider for the event.Reach Rusty Marks at or 304-348-1215.
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