SMITHERS/MONTGOMERY, WV (WOAY) – Mayor Greg Ingram was elected in Montgomery in 2016. Just two years later, Mayor Anne Cavalier took office in Smithers.
But here, you won’t find a cross-river rivalry, but a story of two mayors and two cities working together to bring the Upper Kanawha Valley back to life.
Just last year, the UKV lost Valley High School in Fayette County Schools’ consolidation plan.
But a few years before that, an even more devastating blow: For the first time in state history, they lost a college campus to relocation as WVU Tech relocated to Beckley.
These major losses on top of the coal industry decline were devastating to the area especially in Smithers and Montgomery, so much so that some might have considered them final nails in the coffin.
But in response, an unlikely duo formed an alliance as Dr. Anne Cavalier and Greg Ingram decided if the areas were going to lose together, then they better form a team and start winning together.
“Dr. Cavalier and I have maneuvered our two towns through the maze that no one has ever – this is uncharted waters,” Ingram said. “No one’s ever done this before, so we knew going into this we were stronger together than we were apart.”
And that’s been their mantra ever since as they have formed what they call the Strategic Initiative Council as they share ideas and share funds for projects.
They were instrumental in fighting for the Challenge Academy to take over their abandoned campus, they are working on a major rail-trail project to connect the two cities.
They’ve got a fishing pier and a marina in the works, and dilapidated structures will start coming down soon. Both have even used the old City National Bank building in Montgomery and the old Valley Elementary School in Smithers as their new city halls.
“People are starting to notice that things are happening here and they’re positive things now and the more we accomplish, the more people jump on board with us and say we’d like to be a part of that. And that’s exciting because that means we can stop pushing so hard, and we can start working with people to build,” Cavalier said.
Both say there used to be a rivalry between the two cities but now the mayors say when one comes up with an exciting idea, their next phone call is to the other.
“Together, we’re stronger,” Cavalier said. “Together, our resources go further. There’s more brainpower. There’s more people power. There are more dollars if we can work together for the whole community, not just one municipality or the other.”
They share in their winnings, their plans, and will even share a Christmas parade this year as the continue to build a connection between two river cities that goes beyond just a bridge.
“Someday history will prove that what we’re doing here worked,” Ingram said. “I see nothing ahead of us but momentum.”