Magic Island is a flat five-acre island, actually more of a peninsula connected to the mainland, that includes a walking trail, playground, beach volleyball courts and splash pool, and is conveniently located close to hotels, shopping and dining. The multi-use riverfront park is located at the confluence of the Elk and Kanawha rivers on the West Side of Charleston, West Virginia.
Magic Island Park is located in Charleston, West Virginia. The five-acre park
juts out into the Kanawha River below Kanawha Boulevard. It is
located on the city’s West Side at the confluence of the Elk and Kanawha Rivers, and formed
from deposited silt and debris carried by the Elk River that began accumulating in
the late 1940s.
At the beginning, locals were intrigued by the novelty of the newly
forming landmass that totaled no bigger than an acre below the mouth of Elk. In 1948, the Charleston Gazette held a naming
contest that received over 4,500 entrees. The name Magic Island won the competition, so named because of its tendency to disappear during high water and reappear almost like magic during periods of low water.
Who owned the island, how it should be used, and who
would pay for upkeep were recurrent themes of newspaper articles and public comment
for the next two decades. West Virginia Governor Hulett
Smith ended the ownership dispute in 1968 by simply leasing the island to the City of Charleston for 99 years, thus ending the debate without a legal ruling. Over the years, locals
variously wanted a bird sanctuary, marina, city park and even the Charleston Civic
Center built on the island. Volunteers undertook sporadic cleanup efforts (often using
free Boy Scout labor), as well as an attempt to trap silt and debris to build
up the island by planting 200 willow trees. Unfortunately, the dense vegetation also trapped river-borne debris and garbage.
In 1970 the Charleston Parks Department made a deal
with a contractor erecting the I-64 bridge supports to drop thousands of
yards of material dredged from the bottom of the river around Magic Island in
return for being allowed to store their machinery on the island for the duration of the bridge project. This increased the area of the island five-fold, but
no further substantial work ensued.
Finally, in 1989, additional dredging, filling and leveling occurred to create a prominent peninsula that looked physically much as it does
today. This effort was part of a greater
plan by the city for revitalizing Kanawha Boulevard that also resulted in the construction of
Haddad Riverfront Park at the former city levee in 1993.
Since the 1990s, despite occasional flooding
problems, Magic Island has succeeded not as a single purpose facility, but as a
utilitarian, adaptable civic space. Events have included outdoor family movies, jet boat races,
BBQ festivals, overnight homeless rallies, hot air balloon launch area, yoga and exercise classes, and Easter egg hunts.
In the spring of 2016, the City of Charleston is constructing a splash pool on the island. the city received grant funds from the National Recreation and Park Association and West Virginia American Water to complete the project to better the community.