MADISON — The 22nd annual West Virginia Coal Festival got underway Tuesday in Madison at an opening ceremony at the Boone County Courthouse.
A crowd gathered inside at 6 p.m. due to rainy conditions to hear from Joy Underwood, president of the festival.
Another highlight of the event was short speeches by state Senators representing the county, Ron Stollings (D-Boone) and Art Kirkendoll (D-Logan).
The event commenced with an opening statement by Underwood, followed by a welcome address by Madison Mayor H.H. “Sonny” Howell.
The posting of the colors and Pledge of Allegiance was led by Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 5578 of Madison. Larry Rice is the commander.
The posting of the festival flag was led by the V.F.W. Womens’ Auxiliary. Janet Williams is the president.
An invocation was delivered by Rev. Tom Bias of the Van United Methodist Church.
Chad Hess followed with his version of song entitled, “Back to Boone.” In addition to his musical talents, Hess is a Boone County deputy sheriff, according to Underwood, and also led the crowd in singing “Almost Heaven, Take Me Home Country Roads,” which is John Denver’s popular song about West Virginia and now also one of the state’s songs.
Sylvia Meadows was crowned the festival’s “Boone County Belle.”
Boone County’s only living survivor of D-Day, Bob Peal, was recognized as the grand marshal of this year’s festival.
Both speakers, Senators Stollings and Kirkendoll said they are fighting to keep coal jobs in the region.
Both said the area boasts some of the “best miners, best engineers, and best technicians in the world” who are now “being punished by an over-reaching U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and ad administration in Washington for a job well done.”
Other coal officials said there is a “war on coal” happening in Washington, D.C., and said the reason there is no mining equipment display this year at the festival is because no equipment is being manufactured right now due to the poor market conditions in the coal industry, which they again blamed on the EPA and the current administration in Washington.
In the last three years, approximately 10,000 mining jobs have been lost in West Virginia, Southeastern Kentucky and Southwest Virginia, according to recent reports.
“We need help and are working hard,” Senator Kirkendoll said, “and the answer is not to put our hard-working coal miners out of business.”
“Coal must be a part of our nation’s energy mix,” said Senator Stollings. “We will continue to work hard and also work to diversify our economy here as well.”
The program concluded with a benediction by Rev. Bias.
The event also featured the 2015 WV Coal Festival beauty pageant queens and the bicycle parade winners. Sponsors of the bicycle parade were Barker’s Hardware and Freddie Harless, Whitesville’s mayor.
Also, the Coal Museum and train display opened Tuesday, as well as a karaoke show and the carnival.
Today features the Miners Memorial Service at 6 p.m. on the front lawn of the Boone County Courthouse, and a gospel music concert starting at 7:10 p.m. on the Main Stage on Main Street in downtown Madison.
The Coal Festival runs through Saturday in Madison with free entertainment and a number of events open to the public. Musical events, parades, the carnival and fireworks are featured during the 5-day festival.