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Education center grant hailed as 'terrific' news

December 11, 2008|By MATTHEW UMSTEAD

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. - Planners of "for the kids, by George," an interactive exhibit and education center for children in Martinsburg have been awarded $290,000 for the Washington Heritage Trail project.

U.S. Sen. Jay Rockefeller on Wednesday formally announced the National Scenic Byways Program grant award, which the Federal Highway Administration apparently decided last month.

"This project will educate our young people about the Eastern Panhandle's historic contributions, and is sure to boost tourism and benefit the local economy," Rockefeller said in a news release.

"This is really terrific news for the City of Martinsburg, as well as schools and children across the entire region. I'm thrilled that the Washington Heritage Trail's grant request has been approved, and I look forward to seeing the project move forward in a positive way for the community," he said in the release.

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The federal grant, to be administered by the West Virginia Department of Transportation, is expected to be matched with $72,500 of in-kind support from individuals and heritage-minded organizations in the community, officials said.

"It will be built to National Park Service standards, that's one of our goals," said James L. Castleman, who prepared the 19-page grant application for the project to be housed in Caperton Station at 229 E. Martin St.

The project could be complete within two years, depending on final costs, Castleman said.

"We're certainly at the end of the beginning," Castleman said of the grant-writing project, which was an effort started about two years ago.

Plans for the education center include installing exhibits about the community's history with an emphasis on George Washington's connection to the region on the first and second floors of the restored pre-Civil War train station-hotel building and the adjoining addition that now serves daily train passengers.

The present passenger waiting room is expected to serve as an orientation gallery for the center, with a film about the Washington Heritage Trail that will be played by visitors, Castleman said.

The Washington Heritage Trail is recognized by the Scenic Byways Program as a 136-mile loop in the Eastern Panhandle that takes tourists near 126 historic sites, ranging from a stone structure known as "George Washington's Bathtub" in the Town of Bath in Morgan County to the Washington family estates in Jefferson County.

Castleman credited Rockefeller and U.S. Sen. Robert C. Byrd, along with endorsements from Martinsburg and Berkeley County leaders, for helping win support for the project.

Washington Heritage Trail board of trustee Paul K. "Kim" Reid believes the potential for the project is "limitless" and credited Castleman for doing much of the work to make it happen.

"I can't give him enough credit," Reid said.

Trustees now are working to generate partnerships with the community to lend more financial support to the creation of a "first-class educational complex," Reid said.

Martinsburg-Berkeley County Convention and Visitors Bureau Executive Director Andrea Ball said that by gearing the project toward children, the center will also be an tourist attraction for families and not just from the Eastern Panhandle.

"It really is wonderful news," said Ball, who was unaware the grant had been awarded.

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