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Public can comment on plans for Wilkeson coke ovens

A civic desire to preserve Wilkeson’s historic coke ovens persists and citizens will soon get a peek at what a renovation project might look like.

Spearheaded by Bryan Bowden of the National Park Service, a conceptual plan has been drafted. Included in the process was a barnstorming session in October that brought together community members and landscape architects, which was followed by a public open house.

Plans have been further refined and will be on display beginning at 6:30 p.m. March 27, during a hearing sponsored by the Wilkeson Town Council. Public comments on the plan will be taken at that time.

The city has long talked about rehabilitating at least a few of the coke ovens, both as a source of community pride and potentially to attract visitors. Mayor Donna Hogerhuis said a developed park could include everything from an amphitheater to a covered picnic area. A plan for Coke Oven Park also could include upgrades to the adjacent area used for the city’s annual Handcar Races celebration.

The ovens were used in the early part of the 20th century to burn the impurities from the raw coal extracted from nearby mines, but now serve only as a reminder of Wilkeson’s boom times. During the course of many decades, the ovens have fallen into disrepair. Weeds dominate the area and vandals have left their mark as well.

There are approximately 30 coke ovens remaining, with some in much better condition than others. They stretch for approximately one-third of a mile and are part of a nine-acre parcel owned by the city of Wilkeson.

While plans for Coke Oven Park have been drafted, an accompanying price tag has not been calculated.

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