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Camp Brookside, 32-acre ‘Isle of Fun’ in New River Gorge, prepares for new role

By Rick Steelhammer, Staff writer
CHRIS DORST Gazette photos
Robin Snyder, chief of interpretation at New River Gorge National River shows visitors an overnight camp-out spot on a flat rock overlooking part of Brooks Falls in the New River.
Photo courtesy NPS Interior view of 1947-vintage cabin at Camp Brookside as it appeared before refurbishing.
Photo courtesy NPS A view of the camp’s dining hall as renovation work nears completion.
Camp Brookside’s iconic but now non-functional water tower stands above some of the six cabins on 32-acre Brookside Island a few miles north of Hinton. The National Park Service is refurbishing the 67-year-old camp for use by seasonal work crews and outdoor education students.
CHRIS DORST | Gazette Double-doors at Camp Brookside’s dining hall open up to a wrap-around porch facing the New River. The National Park Service owns the former Union Carbide camp, and is renovating it for use as living space for part-time staff, Americorps crews, and as an outdoor education center.
CHRIS DORST | Gazette The dining hall and kitchen at Camp Brookside are being renovated and upgraded to modern standards and codes.
CHRIS DORST | Gazette National Park Service construction crew leader John Coffelt examines decades-old graffiti which is being preserved on the back of a cabin door at Camp Brookside.
CHRIS DORST | Gazette VISTA worker Angela Allison has been compiling a notebook of oral histories and camp mementos from Camp Brookside.
CHRIS DORST | Gazette A postcard sent home to Fayetteville from a homesick camper in July 1957, has been saved in a binder of Camp Brookside mementos.
CHRIS DORST | Gazette A copy of a certificate from Camp Brookside has been saved in a camp history and memento binder.

HINTON — During the 1950s and ’60s, Camp Brookside was a 32-acre “Isle of Fun” in the New River for the children of workers at Union Carbide’s Electro Metallurgical Co. plant at Alloy. Now, 50 years later, it is being renovated and re-purposed by the National Park Service for use by new generations of young people.

The NPS bought the island opposite Brooks Falls in 1993 as an addition to the New River Gorge National River. Union Carbide had not operated its youth summer camp program on the site, accessible by crossing an iron bridge over a small channel, for decades, but had made Camp Brookside’s cabins available for employee’s families to use.

New River Gorge National River initially used a portion of the camp as a base for a whitewater rescue crew. Later, a group of regional leaders led by former Concord President Jerry Beasley conducted a feasibility study for re-using the facility. Then the late Sen. Robert C. Byrd earmarked the funding needed to renovate the camp and bring plumbing, wiring and accessibility up to code.

Renovation and modernization work on the camp is nearly complete and will be showcased during a Sept. 27 open house. Former campers are encouraged to attend and to share memories, photos and mementos of their time at the camp.

“We did nearly all the work in-house,” said John Coffelt, who heads the NPS construction crew at Brookside. “Work’s been going on for a couple of years. It’s neat to bring this camp back to life. I can’t wait to see the finished product.”

During its heyday, Camp Brookside hosted hundreds of kids at the island getaway each summer. The 15-and-under offspring of Carbide employees often traveled to the camp by train, boarding at Cotton Hill and disembarking at Brooks — about three miles north of Hinton. Each two-week session cost parents $15 per camper.

The camp was equipped with six cabins, a dining hall/recreation center, bathhouse, swimming pool, badminton and basketball courts, a baseball field, horseshoe pits, rifle and archery ranges, hiking trails and a learn-to-canoe area.

Upon arrival, campers were issued official Camp Brookside T-shirts, and given postcards featuring the camp to send to their parents.

Sew-on patches were awarded to campers upon mastering various crafts and outdoor skills.

Angela Allison, an AmeriCorps VISTA intern, has been interviewing former campers and residents of the Brooks area and collecting Camp Brookside memorabilia in an effort to better document the camp’s history.

One tradition she learned about was for campers to spend one night of their two-week session camped out on a slab of flat rock overlooking the New River and Brooks Falls. Another was for girls to lug their bunk-bed mattresses to the rifle range to use for cushioning while shooting in the prone position.

From the outside, the camp’s six cabins look little different from photos of the camp in its prime. That’s the intention of Coffelt and the members of his construction crew.

The cabins’ distinctive green shuttered screened windows have been retained, but are equipped with sliding glass panels to prevent heat loss during cooler weather.

The cabins are insulated and have new interior surfaces and floors, and should be cozy enough for three-season use. The renovation project’s nod to the past extends to graffiti. Names, dates and alleged romantic affiliations from three generations of campers can be found on the cabins’ interior door panels.

The cabins will be significantly less crowded than they were during the camp’s glory days. Only five or six people will be assigned to each unit.

The remodeled dining room has a new commercial-grade, tiled-floor kitchen with steam tables and is capable of producing 150 meals per day. New wood paneling brightens the dining area. The dining area’s large stone fireplace remains operational to augment a new air-conditioner and heat pump unit.

Robin Snyder, chief of interpretation for the New River Gorge National River, said that discussions are underway to identify potential users of the remodeled camp.

“It’s looking like one use will be a residential youth camp for people 15 to 21 who would live here and work on nearby projects for six to ten weeks at a time,” she said. Organizations like the West Virginia Citizen Conservation Corps would be likely candidates for using the camp.

“We’re also looking at it becoming an environmental education center,” Snyder said, in which college students would earn credits by working directly with the park’s staff on such projects like water quality monitoring.

Camp Brookside’s Sept. 27 open house, open to anyone, will be held from 2 to 5 p.m. Participants are urged to park at nearby Summers County High School and ride a shuttle bus to the island.

Reach Rick Steelhammer at rsteelhaqmmer@wvgazette.com, 304-348-5169 or follow @rsteelhammer on Twitter.


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