Birthplace of Rivers monument designation hits a snag

The Birthplace of Rivers national monument initiative was the topic of opposing views at the commission meeting of Tuesday, Dec. 17. Those against the initiative included Pocahontas County Commissioner Bill Beard and Cully McCurdy with the National Wildlife Turkey Federation. Their points covered concerns for “government overreach,” uncertainty whether fishing, hunting and timber use within the monument area would still be allowed, whether park management services would have the transparentcy and public overview it currently enjoys, which, as McCurdy claimed, will “take the democratic process out of play.”

Those for the monument status for the Monongahela National Forest included John Walkup with the Greenbrier River Watershed Association and Mike Costello, executive director of West Virginia Wilderness Coalition, who pointed out economic revenue opportunities for local tourist-based industries, and that monument status would insure that the land is kept secure from industry and political encroachment in perpetuity. Additionally, local citizens at the meeting had only supportive views on the initiative.

Mayor John Manchester stated Lewisburg City Council recently passed a resolution for the Birthplace of Rivers national monument initiative saying “tourism is the number one local enhancement for the Greenbrier Valley” and as a “gateway community for the monument,” the valley stands to gain from the status designation.

Meagan Redont with the Greenbrier River Watershed was in support of water purity and for a roadblock to frack drillers.

“How thin a thread the Monongahela hangs,” said Mark Jennings. “No one here 100 years ago would have guessed that loggers would have cleared the forests as they did because of the Industrial Revolution” which was in full swing at that time. “In a hundred years from now,” he went on, “we can only assume the outcome for local interests is very unsure.” It’s best to stabilize these special places and take them out of the pool of exploitable resources, he said.

Merrick Tracy, owner of Hill and Holler Bicycle Works, said the outdoor recreation industry is growing. He urged preservation of the wilderness.

Bill Turner with the West Virginia Rivers Coalition stated the National Wildlife Federation supports the monument status designation. He said water is a valuable resource and will someday be recognized as such. West Virginia faces a choice either to continue with the extractive economy of the past or to go forward with a new thriving economy based on tourism/recreation. “This is a better vision for the future than the status quo.” Turner said.

The timeline for the monument designation is open-ended, allowing time for an inclusive process to discover that shared values and collaborative efforts are possible, “but only if people make it so.” said Costello. If creating a bill to designate the monument is a better way to do it, then let’s sit down and work on it together.” He said, “It”s better to be a part of the conversation rather than shut that conversation down.”

“With an olive branch extended,” Commissioner Woody Hanna said, speaking for the commission, “we would like to see a compromise arrived at within Pocahontas County first.” Commission president Karen Lobban concurred, “We would like to see all parties get together.” She said the commission will research the pros and cons of the Birthplace of Rivers monument designation.