Funding announced for broadband expansion in West Virginia

CLARKSBURG, W.Va. (AP) — A project to expand rural broadband in five north-central West Virginia counties will get $18.7 million from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, officials announced.
The $25 million project will connect more than 6,000 households in Harrison, Doddridge, Lewis, Barbour, and Upshur counties to high-speed internet, news outlets reported. Remaining funds for the project will come from private investment.
Officials who attended the announcement Monday spoke about the value and need for better internet connectivity.
“As the USDA, we understand that broadband is no longer an amenity,” said Kris Warner, West Virginia State Director of the Department of Agriculture. “It is essential for education, healthcare and public safety.”
The Harrison Rural Electrification Association Inc. plans to construct the network over the next few years, CEO Terry Stout said.
“We plan on building it big,” Stout said. “It might be a jumping-off point for other people eventually to expand beyond where we’re going with this grant money.”
Stout said final preparations are still in the work, but it should take around 3 years to complete once work starts.
“Getting this out there is going to be life-changing for a lot of people, I think,” Stout said. “I think it’s going to be as life-changing as what it was to give people electricity.”

WVa Humanities Council seeks historical figure applicants

CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) — People interested in portraying historical figures for the West Virginia Humanities Council’s History Alive program can submit proposals through Feb. 1.
The council is seeking proposals for portrayals of influential people who have made important contributions to state, national or international history.
The roster of characters now includes Gabriel Arthur, Nellie Bly, Stonewall Jackson, Ostenaco, Theodore Roosevelt, Sacagawea, Charles Schulz, Harriet Tubman and Mark Twain, The Herald-Dispatch reported.
The council will consider portrayals of historically significant people who are no longer living, from any period in history.

Grant to make Marshall’s history app more accessible

HUNTINGTON, W.Va. (AP) — A history app founded by Marshall University has received a nearly $100,000 grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities to improve accessibility for users who are visually impaired.
The app, called Clio, allows educators and cultural institutions to design mobile tours for exploring historic and cultural sites. It uses GPS to provide users with information and photos. It also allows them to hear interviews and experience walking tours of historic sites.
Clio founder David Trowbridge is an associate professor of history at Marshall. The funding will allow Trowbridge to partner with the American Foundation for the Blind and the team of software engineers who built Clio to review aspects of the website and mobile application for accessibility, the Herald-Dispatch reported.
Trowbridge said plans include expanding the current text-to-speech feature and adding more options to alter text. He said he hopes the work will be a model for other digital humanities projects.
“By building an accessible website and native application, we hope to make it possible for millions of Americans with vision loss to discover and enjoy immersive and location-based humanities scholarship that includes audio narration and oral histories,” Trowbridge said in a statement.

WVa community passes resolution supporting gun rights

FORT GAY, W.Va. (AP) — A West Virginia community has passed a resolution declaring itself a “Second Amendment sanctuary.”
The Fort Gay town council passed the resolution Friday night, news outlets reported. Supporters say it is a defense against possible federal or state legislation that could limit access to firearms, ammunition or gun accessories.
Mayor Joetta Hatfield said Fort Gay is the first municipality in West Virginia to adopt such a resolution. She said the move was in response to recent events in Virginia, where the new Democratic majority leadership plans to enact a slew of gun restrictions.
Fort Gay is located in Wayne County along the West Virginia-Kentucky border.
Last week the Putnam County Commission passed a similar resolution.

West Virginia hunting season pays tribute to early settlers

By CAITLIN TAN West Virginia Public Broadcasting
CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) — West Virginia’s Mountaineer Heritage Hunting season began Jan 9, two weeks after most hunting seasons have closed. It is the second year since its conception, and most notably, it is limited to primitive weapons — like flintlock muzzle loader rifles.
The season is meant to memorialize the state’s settlers, using similar hunting techniques and weapons.
Muzzle loader rifles are long guns, easily four feet. Hunters load black powder into the muzzle — the end of the gun — to fire. It takes an experienced person just under a minute to reload. That means that for hunting, you typically have one shot to kill an animal.
“Literally these are not high tech. These are primitive weapons. There’s nothing high tech about them,” Gene Wotring, a Morgantown-based rifle maker, said.
A NEW GENERATION
As of last spring, Gene started making the WVU Mountaineer rifle — the signature piece for WVU’s Mountaineer mascot. His father, Marvin Wotring, made the rifle for over 40 years prior to that. Marvin made 949 muzzle loaders in his life, and Gene is on number nine. It takes him about 80 hours to make one rifle.
Inside Gene’s shop in Morgantown, five rifles were mounted in front of a rugged, cotton American flag. The rest of the shop was in a bit of disarray — Gene is still going through all of his father’s tools, which he inherited. But the rifles on display stand out. He made them all this year.
“A lot of frustrating hours in that gun and I had to put it up for a little bit. So then I built this one and made out of completely scraps from his shop,” Gene said.
They all have a glossy wooden shine to them. Two have a hand-carved gold emblem in the shape of W.Va. Another is made out of Birdseye Maple, which gives it a distinct, patterned look and is decorated with a metal bear paw.
BUILDING IT FOR THE CHALLENGE…
Gene said the knowledge of how to build muzzle loaders, and even how to shoot them, is dwindling. He said it is easier to hunt with modern rifles because they are easier to load, can shoot a longer range and can shoot multiple times within a matter of seconds.
But, he said, black powder hunting is almost a sport of its own.
“There’s a challenge to it. At some point, honestly it’s pretty easy to kill an animal with a modern rifle, you want to make it a little more challenging.”
And that is a big reason the West Virginia Department of Natural Resources advocated for the Mountaineer Heritage Hunting season. In a 2018 DNR survey of hunters, data showed that almost half of West Virginian hunters intended to take part in the season.
And Gene is one of those people. He made his first muzzle loader at 11 years old, but he had stopped building the rifles in adulthood.
…AND THE LEGACY
When Marvin passed away unexpectedly, Gene felt like he needed take over his father’s legacy. WVU needed a new rifle right away, and Marvin had a list of other customers orders dating back to 2010. Gene said as Marvin got older, he could not keep up with the demand.
Gene was left with a stack of worn papers, big and small, that Marvin liberally scribbled names and phone numbers on.
“There’s 98, plus all the ones on the side, plus the ones on the top. He ran out of room. But some people are finding me,” Gene said.
For as long as Gene can remember his dad was making muzzle loaders, so Gene said he did not realize how special of a craft it is.
“I’ve heard comments where my work is just as good as dad’s, but when I look at it I think it doesn’t even match up – completely different category,” he said.
BUILDING IT FOR THE HISTORY
Larry Spisak is another West Virginian who builds muzzle loaders.
His shop is down a windy turnpike outside Morgantown. It sits on several acres of forested land that he hunts on. Larry is retired and devotes much of his time to studying and interpreting the practices of our Appalachian ancestors.
“The ability of dressing in period clothing, firing period weapons, hunting and experiencing the woods as our ancestors did 200 years ago, even with today’s modern technology, for me and many others, that’s the closest as you can come to time travel,” he said.
Over 40 years he has made dozens of rifles. Larry prefers to make flintlock rifles, which are a type of muzzle loader, and are one of the oldest firearm technologies dating back to the 1500s.
“READY TO FIRE”
With a flintlock, one pulls the trigger, and a piece of steel hits the flint, which is just a very hard rock. It creates a spark and ignites the black powder.
“First thing I do is take my powder horn and I’ve got my powder measure right here and that’s from a wild turkey leg bone,” Larry said.
All of his supplies are handmade. A friend made the turkey powder measure and Larry made the leather bag carrying the rifle and round lead ball, which serves as the bullet.
Larry wrapped the ball in a small piece of fabric, or a patch, before putting it into the barrel of the gun.
“The patch acts as a seal and it also allows the rifling to grip the ball better and put that spin on the ball,” Larry said. “Alright now we draw the ram rod and drive it home.”
He used the ram rod to push the black powder and bullet into the bottom of the gun, back by the flintlock.
“Alright it’s on the charge. Ready to fire. Put it on full cock and we’ll go,” he said.
The gun made a bellowing sound through the woods.
HISTORICAL ROOTS
The rifle is a large part of Appalachian history, Larry said. Early settlers had to hunt for food, and muzzle loaders were the way they did it, Larry added that West Virginians today still embody their ancestors.
“A large percentage of the population lives in the mountains, and maybe not realizing it, they are, in their everyday activities in their farming and hunting, they are living a bit of the life that was commonplace 200 years ago,” he said.
And that is why Larry still makes and hunts with muzzle loaders. He likes to feel connected to the settlers who paved the way for us in Appalachia.

West Virginia county to offer medical seat belt covers

RIPLEY, W. Va. (AP) — Health officials in West Virginia are hoping a new initiative will help Jackson County residents quickly inform first responders about their medical conditions.
WCHS-TV reports the Jackson County Health Department is offering free seat belt covers that will display personal and medical information that first responders can use during a car crash or other emergency situations.
Known as “Medical Seat Belt Safety Days,” the county will provide the free covers on March 26 and 27.
People interested should bring their medical insurance information and a list of medications they currently take.
Car seat safety checks also will be provided during that time at no charge.

Capito files for reelection, faces potential race with Ojeda

By ANTHONY IZAGUIRRE Associated Press
CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) — U.S. Sen. Shelley Moore Capito filed for reelection Friday, setting up a potential 2020 showdown with former presidential candidate Richard Ojeda in West Virginia.
Capito, a Republican, announced she was running last year but has now officially submitted her reelection paperwork with the secretary of state in Charleston.
“I’ve been honored to serve and I want to extend my service to work on things that we’ve talked about — transportation, economic development, broadband development, our energy industries,” she said.
Capito served seven terms in the U.S. House of Representatives before being elected as a U.S. senator in 2014, when she became the state’s first female in the Senate and its first Republican senator in about 55 years.
Her filing tees up a potential race between her and Ojeda, a Democrat who filed earlier this week , although he has opposition in the Democratic primary.
Ojeda resigned a seat in the West Virginia Senate last year to mount a long-shot bid for the presidency, but quit about two months into the race, saying he failed to garner enough money or attention to sustain his candidacy. He also lost a 2018 congressional race.
In an online announcement, Ojeda pledged to confront Republican leaders in the U.S. Senate.
“I believe Mitch McConnell needs a thorn in his side and nobody is better at that than me … Richard Ojeda,” wrote Ojeda, a retired Army paratrooper.
In the Democratic primary, Ojeda is set to face progressive Paula Jean Swearengin, who was featured in the Netflix documentary, ” Knock Down the House. ” The daughter and granddaughter of coal miners, she filed earlier this week. In a statement, Swearengin said she is “not a millionaire and have not spent 20 years in Washington,” but added, “I know what it’s like to struggle to put food on the table and make ends meet.”

Justice orders flags lowered for firefighter killed in crash

CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) — West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice has ordered flags at the Capitol lowered to half-staff for a firefighter who died while responding to an emergency call.
The Republican governor on Thursday issued a proclamation to lower the flags Saturday for Clover volunteer firefighter Mark Horwich, who died when his fire truck went off a narrow road en route to a structure fire in Roane County last week.
Horwich also was the co-owner of a business that developed record keeping software for fire departments. He had been a firefighter since 2001.
The Roane County Sheriff’s Office is investigating the accident.
Horwich’s funeral is also set for Saturday.

Senate OKs bill to allow pepper spray at Capitol

CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) — Pepper spray may soon be allowed at the state Capitol building under a proposal approved by the Senate on Friday.
The chamber unanimously approved the measure without debate, sending it over to the House of Delegates for consideration.
The bill would exclude pepper spray from the state’s list of deadly weapons, allowing allow small canisters of the item to be carried at the state Capitol.
The proposal was sponsored by Republican Sen. Patricia Rucker of Jefferson County.

West Virginia county bans indoor use of e-cigarettes, vapes

CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) — A health board in West Virginia’s largest county voted Thursday to ban the use of e-cigarettes and vapes inside public spaces, news outlets reported.
The Kanawha County Board of Health unanimously passed the ordinance that will bring e-cigarettes and vapes in line with existing bans prohibiting the use of cigarette and tobacco products inside businesses.
Local business such as restaurants or stores will be responsible for placing signs informing of the ban inside and near entrances. If these signs are not displayed by their next building or health inspection, they could be fined, The Charleston Gazette-Mail reported. If someone is caught vaping inside a public place, they will be asked to stop, the newspaper said. It’s unclear whether patrons would be fined.
The Cabell-Huntington Board of Health will host a public hearing on a similar ordinance next week, WCHS-TV said.