Birthplace of Rivers National Monument celebrates WV landscape
National monument designation for the Birthplace of Rivers, in east-central West Virginia, is likely to have a significant impact on the local economy, boosting both revenue and jobs and providing a competitive advantage to the region according to a new economic report. Downstream Strategies and affiliate Dr. Alan Collins, of West Virginia University, examined potential regional economic impacts associated with the proposed designation of the Birthplace of Rivers National Monument.
The proposed Birthplace of Rivers National Monument could support 143 jobs and bring a total of $5.2 million in economic activity to the region annually. The monument would span the Cranberry Wilderness, the Highland Scenic Highway, Falls of Hills Creek and the headwaters of six rivers. This area contains some of the most visited recreational destinations in West Virginia. Permanent protection of the diverse range of recreational activities – including hunting, fishing, mountain biking and hiking – would enhance the area’s marketing appeal. The area currently supports more than 100 full-time jobs. National monument designation could create more than 40 additional jobs and increase visitation by 50,000 people per year to gateway communities such as Marlinton, Richwood and Lewisburg.
National monument designation is a special status bestowed upon federal lands – in this case, US Forest Service land – possessing unique natural, cultural, or historic features, established by either an act of Congress or by presidential proclamation. Although there are currently more than 100 national monuments in the United States, the Birthplace of Rivers would be the only large-scale national monument in the East and the only one in West Virginia. Designation of the Birthplace of Rivers Natural Monument would protect an additional 75,000 acres of forestland, bringing national attention to a unique and ecologically significant portion of the Monongahela National Forest state, while continuing current management practices.
In addition to job growth and land conservation, researchers estimate a 42 percent increase in visitation-related spending as a result of designation. Millions of dollars are projected to be spent on food and beverages, gasoline, sporting goods, campgrounds and amusement. Designation could also generate a total of more than $800,000 in local, state, and federal tax revenue annually. These additional tourism dollars would support county libraries, hospitals, local parks, arts, and emergency services.
The report specifically analyzed visitation-based impacts of designation and did not account for forestry-related employment in the report. However, in a letter to the Pocahontas County Commission from U.S. Forest Service Chief Thomas Tidwell, he stated that, “National monument designation can bring many public benefits including increased visitation and additional opportunities for potential federal resources to be matched by other federal, local and private resources for broader restoration objectives.”
Fritz Boettner, project manager and Principal at Downstream Strategies, explains that many newly designated national monuments across the country have seen a significant increase in visitation. “Some national monuments saw more than a 125 percent increase in visitation after designation. Our forecast of a 42 percent increase in visitation is likely conservative, but still illustrates how increased recognition of the area could have significant impacts on the local economy.”
The report was prepared for the Birthplace of Rivers Initiative, a collaborative initiative, bringing business owners and community leaders together with organizations including the WV Council of Trout Unlimited, WV Rivers Coalition, WV Council of Churches, the International Mountain Biking Association and the WV Wilderness Coalition.
More information about the campaign and the full report can be found at www.BirthplaceofRivers.org.