Paw Paw groups gear up ideas to boost economic activity, tourism

by Kate Shunney

Separate efforts to encourage business activity and expand tourism appeal in Paw Paw exchanged ideas and sought help from the Morgan County Commission last Thursday during a meeting that fell on the 130th anniversary of the town’s incorporation.

Commissioners held their monthly meeting at the Paw Paw Town Hall, and invited representatives from the two groups and Town of Paw Paw officials to talk about their plans, and efforts already underway.

Town Manager Ron Davis, standing in for Mayor Darlene Abe, told county officials that major upgrades are in the works for the town’s water and sewer systems, pending funding and design work.

Paw Paw Town Manager Ron Davis updates the Morgan County Commission about town upgrade projects and priorities.

Davis said land owned by the town near the wastewater treatment plant is also being improved to make it more “park-like,” including a new gravel walking trail, rain gardens and tree plantings.

Rain gardens will also be added at the cemetery, park and fire hall to aid flood control, Davis said.

In honor of the town’s 130th birthday, Davis said crews will  plant 130 paw paw trees locally this fall.

“There are very few Paw Paw trees in town,” he said.

The town is looking to add a small stage at the park for events and upgrade playground equipment there. Davis said historic restoration of the old firehouse and old jail are also on the list of projects, in order to preserve the buildings.

Town officials are looking for a small business operation to rent the small visitor’s center building during the summer near the Potomac River bridge.

Effective June 30, Paw Paw will no longer have a business & occupancy tax for operations in the town limits. Instead, the council opted to abolish that tax and swap it for an additional 1% sales tax on most business transactions inside the town limits. Davis said many towns in West Virginia have opted to do the same.

Commissioner Bill Clark said he has been part of some early meetings with a group of Paw Paw residents interested in boosting economic activity, job opportunities and community events locally.

Town native Brandy Steele, who sits on the Morgan County Economic Development Authority (EDA) as a Paw Paw representative, has led local meetings and used social media to gather ideas about what businesses are needed and would be supported by locals and visitors.

Steele said she has been trying to get people involved, and gauging interest of the town council to form its own Paw Paw economic development authority, or to branch off the county’s EDA to create a Paw Paw committee. Steele said some other efforts have included creating a QR code to post for visitors to take them to a website to learn more about the town, and looking into canal and trail groups to partner with.

Steele said another idea proposed locally was to see if the West Virginia DNR would allow off-road trails on the Sideling Hill Wildlife Management Area as a recreation attraction.

Leslie Aun, who is leading a new non-profit, the Paw Paw Proud Committee, said her group has also been part of meetings with the Canal Town Partnership. Even though Paw Paw is not yet a paying member of the group, she said the network of canal towns is “eager for us to participate.”

Aun, who lives in Arlington, Va., said she and her husband have owned property in Paw Paw for 20 years and spent much of their time locally during the COVID closures, and started paying closer attention to the town.

She said she thinks Paw Paw’s rich history should be highlighted for visitors, and local amenities should draw in tourists to boost the town’s economy.

Aun said the community won’t “restore itself to prosperity” on the backs of people who live in town, but must draw from money in the pockets of tourists and bicyclists coming along the canal.

She said the group is interested in organizing “microbursts of activity,” like small shops or food trucks, to make Paw Paw appealing to travelers.

“We’re leaving easy money on the table,” said Aun.

“We definitely need to market ourselves better,” agreed Brandy Steele.

She said the EDA is working on clearing areas of Paw Paw’s industrial park to make those lots more marketable to businesses.

Commissioner Clark and Commission President Joel Tuttle offered the help of the county in matching grant funds and coordinating with agencies to help advance Paw Paw proposals.

Broadband expansion

In other business, the Morgan County Commission approved spending $4,175 to  pay Morgan Wireless to build a 60-ft. self-supporting tower at the old Paw Paw town hall in order to hold broadband internet service provider equipment.

Morgan Wireless, based in Berkeley Springs, is a broadband internet provider. Company representative Ron Martin said the group would like to place their equipment on the new tower in the future in order to expand internet in the town.

Commissioner Tuttle said the tower will have line-of-sight access to Morgan Wireless’ equipment on the Purslane tower, which will bring that signal down into Paw Paw.

Three additional towers are being planned or are in the process of being built in a partnership with the Morgan County Board of Education and Town of Paw Paw to expand internet access.

Brandy Steele asked how local residents could help with the internet expansion effort.

Martin said Morgan Wireless is looking for customers and for land at higher elevations to build more towers in the area.

“I’m pretty sure you could have all of Frontier’s customers once it happens,” Steele said.

Morgan County Commissioners met at Paw Paw Fire Hall on April 8 for a monthly meeting. Pictured, from left, are County Administrator Stefanie Allemong, Commission Secretary Anna Padilla, Commission President Joel Tuttle and Commissioner Bill Clark.