Community meeting

Community meeting of the town of Mon Forest

Members of the public present for the presentation.
Mon Forest Catchment Chart

From: Jennifer Britt

Attorney Parsons

West Virginia Rivers Public Lands Campaign Coordinator Mike Jones along with Program Study Director Jeremy Morris hosted an extremely informative public session at the Canaan Valley Resort to discuss the issues highlighted. in the recent report containing the results of 12 listening sessions held in 2021. with recreational users ranging from hikers and cyclists to paddlers and anglers. Participants in the listening sessions identified areas of concern and visions for an improved recreational experience in the Mon forest.

The report identifies a need for trail maintenance and development, addressing threats of over-visited wilderness, commercializing less-visited areas and ensuring access for all communities, regardless of their background. economic or other status. Jones explained the West Virginia Rivers Coalition to members of the public and said, “Part of my job is to help protect public lands, but also some federal lands like the Mon Forest. For 32 years, a statewide advocacy group that studies water and river concerns. We are committed to serving and restoring West Virginia’s exceptional rivers and streams. We work a lot with citizen science, water monitoring and water quality. We need to expand our reach because water is everywhere in West Virginia.

Jones went on to say, “We have been interested as an organization in studying what is needed for the protection of the Mon forest. We are very aware of the remarkable work the Forest Service is doing to preserve some of the springs. The springs are some of the cleanest, purest, and best water in West Virginia that comes out of the Mon Forest. So we commissioned Jeremy (Morris) to set up a study and listening group.

The listening group was organized through Zoom meetings due to the COVID pandemic and was comprised of public opinions from paddlers, mountain bikers, hunters, hikers, backpackers and those concerned about people’s access disabilities and invasive plant species. The listening group also included members of the LBGTQ and Native American communities as well as other minorities.

Morris added: “We put all these groups online and I also did a lot of individual conservations on the different aspects of recreation in the forest. During these sessions, we asked very simple questions about recreation in the forest. We asked where are you going on Monday, how do you get there, do you have any problems finding your way around or accessing the hobbies you want to participate in, and how they think the experience could be improved.

Morris said the two main concerns of the listening groups were the state or condition of the trails and the need to develop new trails and preserve the wilderness at Dolly Sods. Other concerns mentioned were disparity in forest mapping, access in underserved communities, involvement of minority groups, more gauges in waterways, public access to state railroad bridges , non-evasive plant species and funding with reduced budgets.

According to the summary of findings and recommendations found at wvrivers.orgThe Monongahela National Forest is the crown jewel of West Virginia’s public lands. Established in 1920 and known as Mon, it covers 1.7 million acres, 921,000 of which are actively managed by the United States Forest Service (USFS). Located in the center of the Appalachians, the Mon is one of the most biologically complex forest systems on the planet. It is home to at least 75 species of trees, over 225 species of birds, 60 species of non-game/forage fish, 12 species of game fish and many other wildlife species. Additionally, eight federally listed, threatened, or endangered species of birds, bats, salamanders, and plants call Mon home.

This year-long effort by the West Virginia Rivers Coalition to listen to the public about outdoor recreation and environmental quality in the Mon enables WV Rivers to be inclusive and responsive to the diversity of users in its conservation and public lands policy work.

For nearly two decades, federal government agencies have experienced shrinking budgets, and the USFS has not been immune to these cuts. Throughout the Our Wild and Wonderful Mon listening sessions, forest users expressed concerns about the impacts of these cuts on recreational experiences and environmental quality. Hikers, mountain bikers, anglers and tourism promoters have expressed concern about the Forest Service’s ability to creatively manage a 21st century forest if the operating budget continues to shrink.

West Virginia’s waterways are most at risk from declining USFS resources. The Mon Forest is the source of many West Virginia rivers such as the Potomac, Greenbrier, Elk, Tygart, Cheat, and Gauley. These waterways are crucial to local economies and provide drinking water to many downstream residents. In some ways, West Virginia is a water tower for the eastern United States; our waterways provide clean mountain water to 9% of the country’s population.

Expanding the resources available to USFS in the region is essential. Expanding the financial and human resources available to the My Forest Service will require a concerted effort of voter advocacy and legislative action by elected officials in West Virginia, both in Washington, DC and in Charleston. Although the USFS budget and resources need to grow, that doesn’t mean the agency’s federal footprint needs to expand. The Mon Forest encompasses a diverse region of small communities with vibrant non-profit organizations and a growing business sector. Empowering these organizations as partners of the USFS is the creative solution to expanding opportunities for recreation and environmental restoration within the confines of the forest.

The US Forest Service could act as a funding conduit for organizations or businesses to operate a number of recreational and visitor services, in addition to necessary habitat restoration projects. Working through public and private partnerships, we can build a 21st century Monongahela National Forest that not only continues its legacy as a land of multiple uses, but also ensures that the ongoing legacy meets the changing needs of its residents and users. These types of cooperative partnerships allow local communities to have healthy relationships with the Forest Service. They leverage local and state investments in Mon Forest projects, and these efforts are attractive to private foundations.

Additionally, this type of programmatic effort does not require an expansion of federal employees or property. It ensures that taxpayers’ money is reinvested directly into projects that improve the community. Many forces put pressure on the integrity of the Mon forest and its communities beyond shrinking budgets. The pandemic has increased visitation to the area, with many people seeking socially distanced outdoor experiences.

Likewise, the newly designated National Park at New River Gorge will likely increase visitation to the state in years to come. Once visitors experience the beauty of Mon Forest, they inevitably return. As the pandemic blows through economic pressures of varying magnitude, families and communities in the Mon region and across our country are deeply affected.

Visitors create enormous economic value, but also put pressure on facilities and natural habitat. Finding a balance between economic value and environmental sustainability is crucial and requires long-term planning with input from all entities that value the resources of the Mon forest.

Timing is also critical at the political level, as each election brings new opportunities and new challenges. West Virginia is in a unique position with Senator Manchin chairing the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee. WV Rivers can take this opportunity to convey the experiences, concerns, and needs of the public to the Senator, thereby painting a broader picture of the impact of public lands and conservation policies under his committee’s jurisdiction on West Virginia. and Mon users.

Mon Forest is the best of West Virginia, truly wild and wonderful. As a state, we should strive to create a forest that provides recreational users with unique experiences that they will cherish for a lifetime. We should make Mon Forest the most data-connected forest in the country, giving foresters, scientists and policy makers state-of-the-art tools for their work. Finally, we must always ensure that this precious land is carefully managed and respected so that the next century of West Virginia can enjoy it.

Audience member Gary Berti said: “First of all I want to thank you for coming out tonight, it makes a difference to reach out to everyone. Second, when it comes to advocacy, there’s no one in West Virginia doing the work you do. Thanks for that.”

Fellow audience member Dylan Jones, owner, editor and publisher of Highland outdoors magazine added what it considered a disgrace to the natural beauty of the West Virginia Waterfall Trail. Jones said, “I had friends who went to Seneca Creek last weekend. They said they descended the Great Main Tucker Falls, where there is now a West Virginia tourist post with a sign to take your Instagram photo with the waterfall. There’s a QR code and a thing about what to do later if you don’t have cell phone service. I find it quite disgusting to be honest, because the last thing we need is more signs in front of the waterfalls hiding natural features. Also, it is in the national forest area.

I was just surprised to hear that. I don’t like the direction the tourist office is taking. They are all on Instagram and attract more people regardless of the impacts to the people in those places or the impacts that lead to a million or more people stomping the waterfalls and taking Instagram photos.

Other guests such as Chip Chase and Wyatt Ronelli also expressed their concerns and posed questions to Jones and Morris. Jones said anyone with concerns or questions can email him at [email protected] and the full report can be found at WVRivers.org/OurMonForest.