FAIRMONT, W.Va. (WBOY) — Coal is in the bloodlines of many native West Virginians. One organization is looking to give locals a journey of the industry through an interactive exhibit.
The Interactive Coal Mine Exhibit is a feature created by the Northern Appalachian Coal Mining Heritage Association (NACMHA) and located in Fairmont’s Coal Country Miniature Golf, right off Interstate 79’s Exit 137.
Mike Rohaly, founder of the NACMHA and owner of Coal Country Miniature Golf, took the initiative with the coal mine simulator as a tribute to the history that lives within the state.
Rohaly is from Pennsylvania and began his personal journey being a first-generation coal miner up north. During that time, the rumors of the bubbling innovation in West Virginia’s coal fields were traveling fast and it was then that Rohaly made the move to Fairmont in the early 80s, though he noticed a lack of homage to the northern portion of the state’s efforts in coal.
The Northern Appalachian Coal Mining Heritage Association was founded by Rohaly in 2000 with one of its missions being to bring awareness to the six counties that make up the Fairmont Coal Field.
Currently, each county has at least one location that pays tribute in some way to the historic efforts of the coal mines in that region. Each of those counties and coal sites can be found on this website.
12 News spoke with Mike Rohaly about why he and the organization felt compelled to create a tribute in this way.
“The coal mining industry is on the downturn and has a black eye, I think it’s important to bring the people’s attention. They already know this but remind them of the sacrifices these guys made. It helped us win wars and establish the United States as an industrial power and the lives that were lost,” said Rohaly.
The NACMHA’s coal mine exhibit sits right below the golf course and appears to be entering the hillside like an actual mine does. A minecart sits inside and faces a screen that portrays real images of life in the early days of coal mining in a video courtesy of a traveling state exhibit called “the Black Diamonds.”
Rohaly said that the project is still underway, with many additions still yet to come to make the experience feel more authentic. A full screen and projector, a sound system and electrical services to make the minecart move and altercations to the facility itself are all still yet to come for the exhibit.
A mechanical minecart valued at $88,000 is also still to come all the way from Türkiye as Rohaly mentioned the difficulty in finding a company closer that could create such a request. A new video is also being developed as Rohaly and members of the NACMHA visited two local coal mines and rode through the trails themselves to get the footage.
Although the exhibit is currently still a work in progress, Rohaly said that “there are no deal breakers out here, it’s all going to happen,” standing behind the plans he’s set. The public is also still encouraged to come out any time and see the ongoing development of the exhibit.
With the NACMHA being a nonprofit organization, a lot of the funding for this project is coming from the pockets of those involved in its development. You can help the NACMHA and the coal mining simulation by becoming a member of the NACMHA through its website, or by making donations to the cause. You can also reach out to the organization through its Facebook page.