Cass, West Virginia – How One Big Idea Paid Off to the Tune of $4.6 Million a Year

Jake Lynch is the Director of Network Communications for the Vandaleer partner: West Virginia Hub.  

Photos by The Hub.

Photos by The Hub.

I recently spent a few days at Cass Scenic Railroad State Park — and my favorite part wasn’t riding the railroad.

The state park in Pocahontas County is a living museum comprised of the historic logging Town of Cass and the Cass Scenic Railroad, which now transports tourists, rather than timber, to and from Cheat Mountain.

What intrigued me most about Cass was the concept.

The State of West Virginia purchased an entire town and railroad to create a new state park.

The State of West Virginia purchased an entire town and railroad to create a new state park that illustrates the history of the area’s once thriving industry.

Let’s look at how Cass went from a logging town to a tourist town…

lumber2After Cass’ logging operation shut down in 1960, Russell Baum, a railroad aficionado from Pennsylvania rallied a group of local businessmen around the idea of saving the railroad from the salvage yard by attracting tourists to ride the railroad.

In 1961, Governor Baron signed a bill bringing Cass into the West Virginia State Park system.

Twenty-three thousand visitors rode the railroad in 1963, the park’s first year in operation. Cass Scenic Railroad State Park expanded into town following its initial success.

Tourists pay big money to experience it – $4,624,270 in fiscal year 2015 alone.

In the late 1970s, the West Virginia Department of Natural Resources purchased the former logging company properties in the Town of Cass — including 20 former company houses. Over the years these homes have been beautifully renovated and are now available as vacation rentals for tourists.

Transforming the Town of Cass into a state park has preserved its railroad, buildings and history for future generations — and tourists pay big money to experience it ($4,624,270 in fiscal year 2015 alone!)

Could this concept be recreated elsewhere in the state?


3 Responses

  1. D. P. Lubic

    It could happen, and there are several places where you might do something like this, but I don’t see it happening.

    The reason–you need someone with enough money or clout or both to pull it off. That either means a big sugar daddy, like the Rockefeller family that made the preservation and restoration of Williamsburg, Va. possible, or as in this case, a government willing to put in the money to purchase, operate and maintain such an attraction.

    Keep in mind, as far as I know, Cass Scenic Railroad state park never made any money or profit as such–and I don’t know who besides the government could bankroll such an operation on the basis of the increased tax revenue generated.

    I might mention I tried something along these lines, in the form of attempting to establish a tourist rail service in West Virginia. I never had the money to do it, and couldn’t convince anyone to raise it.

    On top of that, in the time since, the rail industry, in particular CSX, has developed a great aversion to running passenger services, and CSX has a positive, definite, absolute no steam locomotive policy in effect, not even allowing steam engines to be towed on their own wheels, much less actually operated on their lines.

    That closes what could be a grand main line tourist rail operation, from Huntington, W.Va. to Clifton Forge, Va. There are a whole lot of potential attractions on this route–Huntington itself, the state capitol at Charleston, the New River Gorge, Hawks Nest State Park, Grandview State Park, Kanawha Falls, the Greenbriar, the hotel at Hot Springs, Va. (not on line but close), Bluestone Lake and Pipestem State Park (not on line but close again), a really pretty town in Alderson, and of course all the mountain scenery. . .but unless someone changes the mind and culture at CSX (the clout), and can come up with the money (who’s gonna be the sugar daddy), it will never happen.

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