Elk River Boots and Saddle Club rebounds following floods
With the heat beating down, Rick Starcher carried a barrel onto the main horse ring at the Elk River Boots and Saddle Club in Elkview.
It was a sunny late afternoon as the club was preparing to run some test timing for its upcoming show this Saturday.
If you would have asked Starcher several months ago if he’d be making such preparations at the club again, he would have had serious doubts.
“I didn’t figure they would come back,” Starcher said. “They were running on a shoestring budget and we’re still running on a shoestring budget.”
The flooding of June last year that devastated parts of West Virginia, including the Elkview area, saw anywhere from six to eight feet of water from nearby Blue Creek cover the club’s grounds.
“The very tip-top of the barn was all you could see,” said Alice Blankenship, the club’s president and longtime member.
Only concrete structures, such as the concession stand and barn, survived the flooding. Everything in these buildings, however, was lost.
The Elk River Boots and Saddle Club, which is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year, is one of the only such places that isn’t supported by a county or municipality. So, backing would be difficult to come by.
“We thought, after the flood, it would be gone. It was just a mess,” said Starcher who moved back to the area with his wife, Cathy. Both would end up joining the club’s board. “We were basically starting from scratch.”
Brenda Moss, another longtime board member who, like Blankenship, began riding at the club during the late 1960s, would have agreed with Starcher’s assessment.
“It was so hard to see the damage,” Moss explained. “We just thought that there was no way, and to imagine the water this high ... I know that we’re near the creek, but it was unbelievably high.”
The flooding came after a successful show in May last year, a show that saw the place packed with spectators and riders alike. Good times seemed to be ahead for the Elk River Boots and Saddle Club.
“It was amazing,” Moss said of the May 2016 show. “Then in June, everything was wiped out. We had put so much into it and it just ripped our hearts out.”
The worst damage wasn’t to the grounds itself, but to the road leading to them. Sections of it were washed away, making accessing the grounds nearly impossible.
It wasn’t until October when, with the help of four-wheel drives, Blankenship finally got a good look at the damage to the club’s property.
“That’s when we could actually get in and see what we were up against,” Blankenship stated. “All of our appliances, everything in our concession stand had to be hauled off and thrown away. It was disheartening, to say the least, with what we saw when we came back.”
During all of this, with the help of the Jackson County Horse Club and Jackson County Fair Board, the Boots and Saddle Club was able to finish its show season on their grounds in Cottageville.
“They were gracious enough to allow us to continue our show season there last year,” Blankenship said. “We’re lucky enough that several horse clubs and several generous individuals donated and took up money for us.”
The club also held a vet day at the Winfield Riding Club in March, which turned into something more.
“It was a small idea that snowballed and turned into an avalanche and turned into a mini equine fair,” said Blankenship, who noted that several present gave demonstrations with their horses and riding styles. “It was a wonderful experience for all of us.”
Meanwhile, the question remained: What would be the fate of the Boots and Saddle Club’s grounds, which had been hosting events for nearly half a century?
“Our ring was standing enough that it was sound,” Blankenship explained, as they had to lay out lime everywhere. “The concession stand was a cinder block building, so all we had to do was take everything out and we pressure washed and bleached and cleaned it, just like everybody had to do their homes.”
After that, help was needed and it came.
First came access to the grounds.
“I had to cut 45 trees out of the way to rebuild the road,” Starcher said.
“TLC Contracting donated time and a ‘dozer and opened our road back up,” Blankenship added. “We were able to purchase a hundred tons of stone. It’s not nearly enough, but it has gotten us a road into here that’s passable for everybody.”
Then came the rebuilding process, as volunteers and club members came in to help with the concession stands, lavatories and other structures.
“We had to tear down our announcer’s stand,” Blankenship said. “Our secretary’s stand is still standing. It was like a boat in the water. We had to get it put back in place and cleaned up.”
The barn itself, while concrete, had to be gutted.
“We cleaned it completely out,” Blankenship said. “We had to rebuild the stalls. We were fortunate enough to have lumber donated to us that we hope will be enough to rebuild those stalls.”
Volunteers in specialized trades were also needed to help get the club up and running again.
“We had some wonderful help from Lyle Wright (an electrician),” Blankenship said. “We had some plumbers (Allen Chambers and Jeff Gibson), which was very fortunate for us that they had time. They came in and redid our plumbing for us. Jeff Spangler, a carpenter here locally with his own company, came out and helped where he could.
“Getting the supplies, 2x4s, plywood -- things like that -- is very difficult for us to get at this time. The money is just slowly coming in.”
The first show of the new season was slated to be held last month. However, weather once again reared its ugly head and became a concern.
“There was an 80 percent chance of bad weather, and we were not going to chance that with our folks and people’s horses,” Blankenship said. “We got lucky enough that Kanawha County didn’t get hit.”
Now the first show is scheduled for this Saturday, June 24, only one day after the anniversary of when the rains started to fall last year.
“We hope to have the bottom full like we did in May of last year,” Blankenship said. “It was packed last year.”
In addition to Saturday’s monthly show, the club will be playing host to its annual fun show on July 2.
This year’s event will be a special one where Blankenship hopes to unite the community as they celebrate 50 years of the club.
“We’re going to make it a homecoming,” Blankenship said. “We have Mountain Grass, which is a bluegrass band, performing from 4 p.m. to whenever they get tired of playing. We’ll also have a hog roast and covered-dish dinner.
“We want everybody who has ever had any dealings with us, growing up here, showing here ... there’s a hundred people that grew up showing here just like I did back in the late ‘60s, early ‘70s. We’d like to welcome them to come back and visit with us.”
The fun show is set to begin at 1 p.m.
“After the fun show, we’re just going to have great music and fellowship,” Blankenship said.
On July 15, the club will hold a truck show at Herbert Hoover High School to help raise money.
“We’ve tried to be creative with it, because everybody’s fundraising in this area,” Moss said. “We’ve tried to do things outside the area and bring in more people.”
“I think it’ll help our community realize that things are rebuilding and people are coming back,” Blankenship added. “People haven’t forgotten the tragedy and the damage. The fact that so many are still suffering, living in campers on their property, it will let them know that there is hope. There are businesses and there are community activities that are coming back. It might be slow, but we are coming back.”
And slowly, but surely, the Elk River Boots and Saddle Club will rise as the communities along the Elk River have done.
“It’s going to be a work in progress for a couple of years,” Blankenship said.
“It’s one step at a time, one day at a time, one week at a time, one month at a time.”
For more information on the Elk River Boots and Saddle Club, go to the club’s website at erbsc.webs.com or email to firstname.lastname@example.org where you can also find directions to their club grounds.