Despite ongoing health problems, David “Bugs” Stover is taking one more walk. He is again walking from Welch to Charleston to bring attention to the need for the completion of the Coalfields Expressway. He hopes to meet with Gov. Jim Justice and state highways officials at the end of the week-long walk.
“For its completion all the way to Virginia — across Wyoming, Raleigh and McDowell counties,” Stover emphasized of the his walk.
The current Coalfields Expressway construction project includes paving 8.9 miles from Slab Fork to Mullens, then a one-mile section of two-lane road from the exit to the town of Mullens.
The project will finally extend the only useable section of the Coalfields Expressway in Raleigh County to Mullens.
It will be Wyoming County’s first four-lane.
That first 6.9-mile completed stretch of Coalfields Expressway will also be resurfaced to the Veteran’s Hospital, Gov. Jim Justice said earlier this year.
Original grading of the new section began 10 to 12 years ago, according to officials.
The governor promised this project will be finished by October, finally completing nearly 18 miles of useable four-lane from Beckley to Mullens.
Designs to take the new highway from Mullens to Pineville, then to Welch, and finally to the Virginia line are in the works, according to officials.
“It is a wonderful thing for W.Va. 121 to reach Mullens,” Stover said.
“Now, we must work to see it reach Pineville, then Welch, then the border with Buchanan County, Va.
“Each of these milestones will multiply many times the value of this road to Wyoming, Raleigh, and McDowell counties,” Stover said.
The road, also known as U.S. Rt. 121, began 30 years ago when the West Virginia Legislature passed House Concurrent Resolution 28, calling for the construction of a new highway that would link Interstates 64/77 to U.S. 460 in Virginia.
The 62-mile four-lane will traverse McDowell, Wyoming and Raleigh counties in West Virginia, with another 51 miles in Virginia, from Pound, in Wise County, through Dickenson and Buchanan counties.
Stover has served as Wyoming County’s circuit clerk for nearly 15 years. Prior to that, he taught school for 27 years.
Additionally, he’s become well-known as a storyteller across the state.
He has undertaken numerous widely-publicized protest walks for a variety of causes through the years – from supporting coal miners to protesting the unfairness of the 2011 state redistricting plan.
“One of the often heard observations about the Coalfields Expressway is, ‘Look what they have spent on a road that goes nowhere.’
“Then it was said that, ‘If it reaches Mullens, much of the pressure to build on to Pineville, then on to Welch will be over.’
“I do not think that is true, but it could have an impact on furthering it. So, while I can, I’ve decided to apply this kind of pressure,” Stover emphasized.
“On several of my walks, I’ve been asked, ‘Could you not just drive there?’
“Sure, I could; but, if you want to have the most impact, a media-covered walk is by far the best.”
This week, Stover will start at the McDowel County Courthouse in Welch and walk to Pineville, then up the Guyandotte River to Mullens, at the junction of U.S. Rt. 121 and W.Va. Rt. 54.
“While doing this, I plan on taking a moment at Pineville Middle School, Wyoming County East High School, and Mullens Middle School to urge students to support, and get their parents to support, this road,” Stover said.
He also plans to visit with students in Raleigh County.
In 2006, when Stover made his first walk in support of the Coalfields Expressway, Wyoming County East High students walked from the Wyoming County Courthouse to the school with him, accompanied by the Sheriff’s Department to keep them safe.
That time, he met with then Gov. Joe Manchin, who told him it looked like half the county was walking with him.
He’s already walked the section under construction – doing it on a Sunday to avoid slowing construction crews on the site.
He will walk a day at a time, spending nights with friends, camping, and in motels along the way.
“When the road opens in Mullens, it will be of significant help to Mullens and that end of the county – as well as the county as a whole.
“It is already having an impact and it isn’t there yet,” Stover said of the new four-lane.
A popular new restaurant, Rebel Smokehouse, as well as new lodging locations have popped up around the recreational trails in Mullens. Both county and city officials believe the new four-lane will add to the number of visitors.
“When it reaches Pineville, the road’s impact there will grow exponentially and it’s further impact around the county will grow as well,” Stover believes.
“When it reaches Welch (in McDowell County), its impact will be very strong around Wyoming County – especially Pineville and Mullens areas, but significant for all of the county,” Stover said.
“It will be very significant, obviously in Welch, but for all of McDowell County as well...
“A highway going through the county, so people traveling to other destinations have a chance to stop and visit us.
“Many, many times more folks will use 121 after it is completed,” Stover said.
“If a walk can help folks who have influence say yes to the completion of this road, then it will be harder down the road to say no – even when circumstances change,” Stover said.