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Tamarack is located on the West Virginia Turnpike at Beckley. The arts and crafts center, which opened in 1996, is operated by the West Virginia Parkways Authority. Tamarack buys and resells items fashioned by more than 2,000 West Virginians, with all work selected by expert jurors who reject roughly two-thirds of the items submitted for judging. The center retails the items to tourists and other turnpike travelers. The products sold range from glassware, pottery, and baskets to jewelry, toys, recordings, and books. On average, some 450,000 people visit Tamarack annually.

Named for the tamarack tree, which is found in some parts of West Virginia, the center is of ultramodern design with a striking roof line dominated by a series of spires jutting upward. Architect Clint Bryan of Charleston said he had a quilt pattern in mind when he came up with the design. Many visitors have said the red-roofed spires remind them of West Virginia’s mountains.

The building’s basic layout is circular. In addition to the retail area, the center includes studios where artists demonstrate their skills, an auditorium, and a popular food court. The center itself cost $16.2 million to build, but the expense of constructing a new turnpike exit to serve it ballooned the total outlay to nearly $33 million, prompting criticism of the project by some. A $6.5 million expansion was opened in 2003, adding banquet and conference space to Tamarack.

By 2007, Tamarack had generated revenues of $78 million and 5.2 million people had visited. After internal audits indicated that Tamarack was losing $2-3 million per year in 2007, the West Virginia Parkways Authority stopped including revenue information from Tamarack in its annual financial reports.

The Tamarack Foundation for the Arts is a separate nonprofit organization that connects West Virginia artists with local and national opportunities.

Written by James E. Casto