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Wilkeson sets sights on numerous projects

Wilkeson Mayor Donna Hogerhuis, Bryan Bowden  from The National Park Service and state Sen. Pam Roach stand in front of a coke oven in Wilkeson Aug. 22.  - Kevin Hanson, The Courier-Herald
Wilkeson Mayor Donna Hogerhuis, Bryan Bowden from The National Park Service and state Sen. Pam Roach stand in front of a coke oven in Wilkeson Aug. 22.
— image credit: Kevin Hanson, The Courier-Herald

Wilkeson might be small in size, but that doesn’t keep the community from dreaming big.

Buoyed by the optimism of Mayor Donna Hogerhuis, the historic mining town has platted a course of action that could – if everything comes to fruition – pay economic dividends for years to come. Items on the current agenda also aim to offer an immediate payoff in terms of community morale.

City plans were spelled out in detail the afternoon of Aug. 22, when Hogerhuis hosted a session that included Sen. Pam Roach, Bryan Bowden of the National Park Service and Eric Johnson of the Shea-Carr-Jewell engineering firm. Also attending were City Planner Kathy James and City Councilmen Ian Galbraith and Terry Endsley.

“We’ve got a lot on our plate and so much of it involves the state,” Hogerhuis said when introducing Roach.

The mayor intends to host a similar session for state Reps. Christopher Hurst and Cathy Dahlquist who, like Roach, represent Wilkeson in the state Legislature. The trio make up the team from the 31st Legislative District.

First among Wilkeson’s ambitious projects is a redesign of the downtown core, which takes in a short stretch of highway and a few side streets. In 2010, the city landed a grant that is paying for planning work.

Johnson said there were more than 30 options when the process began and the ultimate goal is to “maintain the traditional look of the town.” That’s the intent, despite the potential for giving a new look to the highway, creating additional parking, upgrading sidewalks and lighting and adding bicycle lanes. Plans also show the possibility of providing some downtown creek access.

Leaving town hall and hoofing it along Church Street, the crew headed for the ramshackle coke ovens, a historic reminder of Wilkeson’s mining past.

The city has long talked about rehabilitating at least a few of the coke ovens, both as a source of community pride and to potentially attract visitors. The ovens were used in the early part of the 20th century to burn the impurities from the raw coal extracted from nearby mines.

Bowden said a two-day work session in October will fine-tune plans, which could include everything from an interpretive trail to a small amphitheater.

Bowden’s time and expertise has been made available to the city due to a grant Wilkeson received from the Park Service.

Also on the city’s horizon is the building of a small skate park, a popular idea among many kids in the town of less than 500 residents. Hogerhuis said the city has applied for a state grant to build the concrete attraction not too many steps from Town Hall. The city will know within a week or two how high it sits on the funding priority list.

Also on the agenda is rehabilitation of Town Hall and stabilization of the creek that runs through town.

Hogerhuis said the city has already received a $75,000 state grant to renovate Town Hall’s wood-frame windows that feature peeling paint and are far from energy-efficient. A grant has already paid to replace the hall’s old oil furnace with an modern heat-pump system that brought air conditioning to Town Hall.

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