By David Esteppe
On Feb. 19, President Obama protected over 20,000 acres of picturesque lands surrounding the Arkansas River in Colorado designated as the Browns Canyon National Monument. This comes after the president had already designated the 342,000 acre San Gabriel Mountains as a national monument at the end of 2014.
A national monument is a special designation for federal lands, which possess extraordinary features of scenic, ecological, cultural or historical significance. The special status is a way to more permanently preserve public lands, while honoring existing recreational uses and maintaining current management priorities. National monuments can be created either by an act of congress or by a proclamation of the president.
In West Virginia, a coalition of business owners, sportsmen and economic development organizations are rallying behind a proposal to establish a national monument in the Monongahela National Forest. The proposed Birthplace of Rivers National Monument would include crowd favorites Cranberry Glades, Falls of Hills Creek, Highland Scenic Highway. Tea Creek Backcountry, and the Cranberry Wilderness, along with the headwaters of six iconic rivers in West Virginia. Like San Gabriel and Browns Canyon, the Birthplace of Rivers would continue to be managed by the United States Forest Service.
“The president’s recent actions show a strong precedent for conserving special places while protecting hunting and fishing access,” says Phillip Smith of the West Virginia Council of Trout Unlimited. He adds, “The fact that hunters and anglers across the country have been some of the most ardent supporters of national monuments is a testament to the importance of these designations to sportsman.”
Owner of a guide service in Richwood, Headwaters Fly Fishing’s Frank Second makes his living on streams within the proposed monument area. “A national monument will benefit West Virginia in important ways. It would show the rest of the world that the resources in our backyard deserves the honor and protection from development, which creates a heck of a business opportunity for those of us who depend on people coming here to hike our trails, hunt our woods and fish our nearby rivers,” Second stated.
An economic analysis released in 2013 projects the Birthplace of Rivers National Monument would increase the visitation to the area by up to 42 percent. and support up to 143 private sector jobs, and estimated $14.5 million in revenue to the local economies. Second says, “I don’t know how anyone could see these numbers and say this isn’t a good thing for a struggling town like Richwood. We have to be proactive, we have to be creative, and we have to take advantage of these economic opportunities when they come up.”
Executive Director of the West Virginia Professional Outfitters Association Bobby Bower says, “A national monument will mean a lot to the whole state. After 2013”s Rio Grande del Norte in New Mexico received monument status, tourism to New Mexico increased by over 40 percent.
“We’re trying to sell our state as a place to visit for the best recreational opportunities in the East. This would be a tribute to the “Wild and Wonderful’”, put us on the map, and protect the resources so they may always be enjoyed.”’ Bower added that after the chemical spill last year tarnished our state’s reputation, “we want to be known as the state where clean rivers begin.” He also said that they are watching other states create national monuments to protect their lands and grow economies. “It is time for our leaders in Washington to honor the mountains of West Virginia,’” ended Bower.
On a recent trip to Washington, DC, Smith said. “Every time we go to Washington on behalf of West Virginians, we see how important stakeholder collaboration, water quality, outdoor recreation and sustainable economic benefits are to decision makers. The Birthplace of Rivers National Monument fits in with all of those priorities, and gives us hope that monument status for us is in reach. Leaders in Washington have always been interested as this would be the only national monument on the east coast managed by the United States Forest Service.”
To weigh in support for this designation one may call our U.S. Senators or Representatives. Call: Senator Joe Manchin at 202-224-3954; Senator Shelley Moore Capito at 202-224-6472; Representative Evan Jenkins at 202-225-3452; Representative Alex Mooney at 202-225-2711; Representative David McKinley at 202-225-4172.