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By George, Morgan County's pulling out of trail pact

November 21, 1998|By RICHARD F. BELISLE

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. - The Morgan County Commissioners on Friday pulled out of an Eastern Panhandle consortium dedicated to promoting the region's connections to George Washington, claiming the county was being given short shrift by Berkeley County.

A proposed 111-mile George Washington Trail through Jefferson, Berkeley and Morgan counties would be designed to lure tourists to sites visited by the nation's first president.

Morgan County pulled out of the agreement, citing unfair treatment by Berkeley County, said Morgan County Commissioners president Phillip Maggio.

Morgan County wants an equal say in where the trail goes and how to spend a $60,000 federal grant and an $88,000 state grant, Maggio said.

The federal grant would pay for 112 scenic highway signs marking the trail, two kiosks at the trail's entrances in eastern Jefferson County and western Morgan County and an interpretive center in the Caperton Station in Martinsburg.

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Morgan County's action Friday puts the federal funds in jeopardy, Maggio said.

He said the latest trail map shows 12 sites featured in Berkeley County, 21 in Jefferson County and only four in Morgan County. "Morgan County is riddled with history about George Washington," he said.

"We've been mislead, stonewalled and lied to enough," said Jeanne Mozier, a member of Travel Berkeley Springs, the agency that lures tourists to Morgan County.

Mozier said Washington surveyed in Morgan County in 1748 and returned a dozen times after that. Records show he bought two lots in Berkeley Springs for a house that was never built. A monument to Washington's bath tub sits in Berkeley Springs State Park.

"This is nothing more than Berkeley County getting a bunch of money to spend. Berkeley County has no Washington history," she said.

David Blythe, executive director of the Martinsburg/Berkeley County Convention and Visitors Bureau, said the Eastern Gateway Tourism Council, made up of Berkeley and Jefferson county restaurant, motel and tourism industry owners, set up a 21-member board of trustees to manage the trail. Seven voting members will be appointed from each county, he said.

Blythe said the council applied for the $60,000 federal grant through the Region 9 Planning and Development Council. The $88,000 state grant will pay for consultants to develop a master plan for the trail, identify its historic sites and set up its management.

Blythe said Morgan County officials are invited to trail planning meetings but never show up.

"It's unfortunate that he (Maggio) feels that way. I hope he reconsiders," Blythe said.

State Del. Charles Trump, R-Morgan, said all parties met in July and agreed to equal representation on the board of trustees. Trump said he called the governor's office to express Morgan County's concerns and to ask that no money be spent until all issues are worked out.

Ken Green, director of the Region 9 planning agency, said he may call a special meeting of the agency's executive committee to decide if the grant process should go forward in light of Morgan County's objections.

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