Skip to content
email us

May 14, 2024Capital Improvement for Community Revitalization

Capital Improvement for Community Revitalization  detail

Making the Future Greater than the Sum of Multiple Projects

After devastating floods in 2016, the Clendenin and the Upper Elk River area of Kanawha County and Clay County, West Virginia (WV) had a long journey of extensive recovery efforts. Instead of “simply” trying to rebuild what was lost, the state, county, city, and other economic development authorities seized the opportunity to reimagine the historically challenged terrain as a tourist destination through multiple capital improvement projects.

“In Clendenin, the aftermath was especially striking. [City Council Member Dave] Knight estimates that 90 percent of homes in the town… were flooded,” according to the article “The Upside of Downstream” by Jeff Link in Landscape Architecture Magazine, June 2022, pages 81-82.

It’s tempting to make a “lemonade from lemons” analogy, but that’s far too simplistic. Sour lemons become delicious, sweet lemonade with just enough sugar and water. Taking a historic and physically challenging floodplain from the aftermath of a natural disaster to a thriving community full of potential is far more complex, nuanced, and even sweeter.

Capital Improvement Projects In and Around Clendenin

A combined recovery and revitalization on this scale requires tremendous vision and coordination, not to mention deep expertise in working with a 100-year floodplain. Rebuilding, remediating, preventing future flood damage, and preserving the natural environment was a tall order. E.L. Robinson (ELR), with our local heritage and extensive experience in landscape architecture, had a major role to play across five essential capital improvement projects for community revitalization.

Clendenin and Upper Elk River Tourism Destination Feasibility Study

The Kanawha County Planning Commission brought ELR in to prepare a feasibility study to introduce a new tourism destination site - a proposed BMX Bike Track - in the Clendenin and Upper Elk River area. The County then selected a site along the proposed Elk River Rail-Trail State Park. Finally, we developed a concept plan for the chosen site and prepared a budgetary cost opinion for the County’s use in pursuing grant funding.

Clendenin Trail Town Planning

In another capital improvement project with the Kanawha County Commission, ELR’s landscape architects and planners prepared a trail town feasibility study for the Town of Clendenin to better position its businesses and residents to showcase and expand the retail and recreational environment in the upper Kanawha County and lower Elk River area.

With an expected influx of recreational tourism visitors to the town and the new Elk River Rail-Trail State Park, Clendenin had a great opportunity to capitalize on a large proximity of potential trail users and visitors within and outside the County and State. The Kanawha County Commission planned to develop a platform for new trail amenities and businesses while leveraging the existing Elk River Scenic River and its associated parks and recreational amenities. The ultimate goal was to boost the economic activity in the region through destination tourism activities.

The Clendenin Trail Town Feasibility Study explored the potential capital improvement project to develop recreational amenities associated with non-motorized trails (hiking, biking, equestrian, kayaking, canoeing, tubing, fishing, etc.) The study identified potential trail amenities and trailheads, potential new and/or expanded businesses, and the implementation strategy needed to develop them. ELR developed concept plans for a proposed trailhead and other selected elements and prepared budgetary cost opinions for the County’s use in pursuing grant funding.

BC&G Railroad and Trail

Running along Buffalo Creek, the Buffalo Creek & Gauley Railroad (BC&G) is an 18.6-mile-long former coal-hauling shortline that operated primarily from 1904 through 1965. Through a repurposing strategy called rail-with-trail, which strategically builds recreational trails directly adjacent to an active railroad, the Clay County Business Development Authority (BDA) is now maintaining the BC&G as a sightseeing excursion train and recreation trail. Tragically, the Buffalo Creek riverbank and much of the BC&G railroad and trail incurred severe damage from erosion, sediment deposition, washouts, and bridge displacements from the flash floods of 2016.

As Clay and affected neighboring WV counties underwent numerous flood-mitigation initiatives to repair homes and infrastructure, damage to the BC&G recreation area was also assessed and inventoried using scans of the original 1904 railroad right-of-way centerline maps. This post-flood assessment helped indicate the damaged locations of the trail and lay the foundation for designing needed repairs. The Clay County BDA selected ELR to spearhead a team of geotechnical engineers, structural engineers, civil engineers, and landscape architects to develop detailed capital improvement, design, and Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA)-approved construction plans for the replacement and repairs of the bridges, railroad, culverts, and trails from the community of Dundon to just past Swandale, for approximately15 miles.

Clendenin Elk River Boat Ramp

The Town of Clendenin acquired the properties of former home sites condemned by FEMA following the June 2016 floods. With the help of the West Virginia Division of Natural Resources (WVDNR) Wildlife Resources Section, the town set out to repurpose the 1.25 acres adjacent to the Elk River into a new green, environmentally-friendly boat ramp and river access point along the Elk River in Clendenin.

ELR’s landscape architects developed conceptual designs with budgetary cost estimates for two different approaches to the river for the WVDNR and the Town of Clendenin to consider. We then developed construction plans and bidding documents for the selected capital improvement concept, which included a new parking lot utilizing previous asphalt pavement, new lighting, a concrete boat ramp, wood bollards, an informational kiosk, directional signs, bumper blocks, ADA-accessible parking areas, and landscaping.

Clendenin Outdoor Performance Stage Foundations

Finally, the Town of Clendenin also worked with ELR to provide survey stakeout services, and structural and geotechnical engineering design services to prepare foundations for a new Outdoor Performance Stage near the Elk River at the end of Main Street in Clendenin. The permanent stage would replace a portable stage previously used for Fourth of July celebrations, a chili cookoff and wine-tasting festival, and other events that hosted live musical performances.

The Town hired PDM Architects to design an exposed timber-frame joinery-style outdoor stage, right in the floodplain. With the potential for flood loads on the foundation construction, ensuring the stage’s resistance to flooding was critical. That meant they needed essential soil analysis by geotechnical experts.

ELR executed a geotechnical investigation that included four 30-foot-deep core borings to locate bedrock and discover the soil properties under the new stage. We delivered soil samples encountered to our laboratory for sieve and hydrometer analysis and Atterberg limits testing (a basic measure of the critical water content of fine-grained soils). Based on the core borings and soil analysis, ELR prepared foundation plans for six pier locations to support the new stage.

Capital Improvement for Community Revitalization and a Brighter Future

Clendenin and the surrounding counties recognized the opportunity in the aftermath of disaster. Instead of “just” rebuilding, the community leveraged the required capital improvements to envision a brighter future through revitalization and reimagination.

“The flood was horrible. But we made good come out of bad,” Knight says. “It made us kind of reinvent Clendenin to rely more on our natural resources, our assets like the Elk River and the trail. So I think we will actually come back better than what we were before the flood,” as quoted in the article “The Upside of Downstream” by Jeff Link in Landscape Architecture Magazine, June 2022, page 95.

The Role of Landscape Architecture in Clendenin Capital Improvement

The projects covered here are near and dear to our hearts, as many of our team call West Virginia home. “It’s incredibly inspiring to see a community rally in such a constructive and optimistic way,” emphasizes Landscape Architect and Project Manager, Todd Schoolcraft. “The future is indeed bright, even if high water comes again, and we are deeply proud to be a part of the solution.

Landscape designer Gracetyn Carper continues, “Incidentally, Todd is from Clendenin and I'm from Clay, so we have a special and significant care for the culture and environment of the Elk River Area. Seeing the growth and being a part of the future is incredibly rewarding.

Read our previous article, “A Blueprint for Collaboration,” to learn more about E.L. Robinson landscape architects’ extensive work on these projects. Contact us with any questions or to discuss the needs you may have for a capital improvement project.

West Virginia

  • Charleston
  • Beckley
  • Chapmanville


  • Columbus
  • Cleveland
  • Little Hocking


  • Ashland

A 100% Employee Owned Company

Toll Free: 800.856.6485

*E.L. Robinson Engineering Co. ensures nondiscrimination in all programs and activities in accordance with Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. If you need more information or special assistance for persons with disabilities or limited English proficiency, contact Jayne Gwinn-Charleston Office at 304.776.7473 Ext. 238

© 2024 Copyright - E.L. Robinson Engineering. Website Design + Development: Mind Merge Design
Social Media Policy