RIPLEY - Some 600 people showed up at Cedar Lakes Thursday evening for a rally to show their support for the sprawling conference center, but it will take much more than pompoms for the facility to continue to operate.
A host of speakers presented their own experiences with Cedar Lakes and emphasized the importance of the facility to education, recreation and annual events, but State Superintendent of Schools James Phares who concluded the speakers on the podium minced no words in saying the facility was on the agenda for consideration in the 7.5% in budget cuts that have been mandated for the State Department of Education this year and that it will take the work of many for the facility to continue to serve the area in the future.

“I understand that this facility is an asset to the community, county and state,” said Phares, “but it must be about what we can do. We need help from the Jackson County Board of Education, the Jackson County Commission, the City of Ripley and more. We need help, creativity and thinking out of the box. We need to look at the rates that are charged here.”

Phares said the significant downturn in the economy and salary increases have made for difficult choices going forward. He also noted that while Holt Lodge is a nice facility at Cedar Lakes, the facility cannot compete with other conference centers around the state including Jackson’s Mill in terms of amenities. He added that Cedar Lakes needs to be marketed better, but the State Department of Education does not have the expertise or the funds to hire a marketing consultant.

Much of the Thursday rally was positive from individual speakers extolling the virtues for the facility to rar-rah comments by both Senator Mitch Carmichael and Delegate Steve Westfall. Westfall said meetings with various officials and door knocking has been positive, while Carmichael punctuated his comments with “Save Cedar Lakes!” whipping the attending crowd into applause and chants of “Save Cedar Lakes!”

Emcee Dave Bourgeois said in his opening remarks that the purpose of the rally was to extend to Charleston the importance and value of Cedar Lakes. He said 21 high school bands have used Cedar Lakes to hone their musical skills. He added that a new Save Cedar Lakes Facebook site has had over 7,500 hits in the past two weeks. “Everyone who comes to Cedar Lakes has a story to tell—some life-changing,” Bourgeois said.

John Riddle said Cedar lakes is a serene and spiritual place that must be preserved in the spirit of the Easter family who deeded the land for what the facility is today. He condemned the lack of concern by vote or discussion by the State Board of Education about moving control of Cedar Lakes into another agency. He said he believes it is a lack of awareness by individuals about Cedar Lakes and what it does and means.

Cedar Lakes is a unique gem, a jewel to be shared, not a rock to be thrown away,” said Riddle.
Stanley Hopkins said he commended the group of supporters at the rally for their concern and interest. Cedar Lakes was created in 1950 by state act, said Hopkins. It continues to serves to teach competent leadership, patriotism and citizenship among much more. Over 50% of those who use Cedar Lakes are youth, Hopkins said. And 10% of the state’s population crosses the access bridge every year.

Former Senator Karen Facemyer, new president of the Mountain State Art & Craft Fair, said she would have liked to see more faces attending the rally, but believed those who did turn out could make enough noise to get things started.
“Governor Tomblin has assured me he is totally in favor of Cedar Lakes,” Facemyer said.
Chris Davis spoke from his wheelchair. He said he has attended sina bifida camp at Cedar Lakes for 26 years, and the thought of it closing is “tragic and heartbreaking.” He said Cedar Lakes is absolutely an essential component in our lives, and thanked the “awesome” staff.

Cinda Francis of the West Virginia Forestry Association and a former state FFA officer, reminded the rally goers that the State FFA Convention is held each year at Cedar Lakes in July. She said Cedar Lakes and the FFA go hand in hand. She said Cedar Lakes should to used to its full potential.

Delegate Bob Ashley said while Cedar Lakes is in people’s hearts, being “on the list” is hard to overcome. He said the final decision will be made in the State Legislature. He said a lot of work must be done to keep Cedar Lakes for the next generation and the next and the next. He said it important for Cedar Lakes to stay vibrant and stay useful.
State Treasure John Perdue said Cedar lakes is all about education, education, education. He said it is essential to pass Cedar lakes and all the memories it has made on to the next generation.

“I know we are in difficult times, but there are millions of dollars in the Rainy Day Fund,” Perdue said. “For over 50 years, people have come to this facility. What we need here, Mr. Phares, is a new Assembly hall, not a cut. We need better facilities for this conference center. We’re at a crossroads, we need to not fix blame, but stand up for the next generation—save this educational facility of the next generation.” 

One proposed plan would lay off the 35 workers at Cedar Lakes and mothball the retreat to maintenance only. Another suggestion would be to move the facility from the auspices of the State Department of Education to some other agency.