Opposition To Logging In Watoga State Park Intensifies

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE, February 21, 2018

Contact: Matt Kearns, 304-444-4567, info@WVPublicLands.org

Opposition To Logging In Watoga State Park Intensifies

Parks group, Pocahontas County residents speak out against Senate bill

The firestorm over a bill to open state parks to logging shows no signs of abating. The bill, SB 270, is under consideration by the WV Senate Natural Resources Committee. After public outcry over the original bill, a substitute bill narrowed commercial logging only to Watoga State Park. Now opposition has grown stronger.

The Watoga State Park Foundation, a nonprofit group that supports the park and helps maintain the historic trails there, has issued a statement of opposition to SB 270. “Watoga has a dense population of black bears, as well as arboreal mammals and many bird species. It attracts visitors who want to paddle, fish, swim, birdwatch, hike, see exquisite wildflowers, mushrooms, and other flora and fauna,” foundation president John Goodwin wrote in the statement. “Watoga and other state parks offer West Virginians opportunities that they cannot get elsewhere—to see and experience natural beauty, to learn about nature, and to enjoy the great outdoors.”

On February 17, over 40 Pocahontas County residents gathered at the Hillsboro library near the park. Braving a snowstorm, they shared stories about what Watoga means to their community and about their love and connection to the park, and wrote letters to legislators. They were joined by people from across West Virginia.

“We had an amazing turnout despite the snowy conditions,” said Frank Gifford, one of the event organizers and a volunteer with West Virginians for Public Lands — a coalition of WV organizations and businesses that support public lands. “People in Pocahontas County are deeply connected to Watoga State Park, and care deeply about it,” Gifford said.

Mike Smith retired in 2016 after 32 years as superintendent of Droop Mountain Battlefield State Park in Pocahontas County. He told a story of a 323 year-old white oak tree that grew there, and how park visitors respond emotionally to mature forest. “You’ll see people walk along the trails and they’ll reach up and touch a big old tree . . . they want to see ones that have been there a while,” said Smith. “Going in there and taking out the biggest and the best trees for money, which is only going to last a short time, doesn’t make any sense at all.”

On Sunday, many from the group visited the area of Watoga State Park that would be logged under the proposal being pushed by the Justice administration and Director of the the state Division of Natural Resources Steve McDaniel.

“It’s inspiring to see how deeply West Virginians care about our public lands” said Matthew Kearns, coordinator for West Virginians for Public Lands. “It’s not only conservation groups. Hunters and anglers have rallied for our parks; scientists have raised concern; now the people of Pocahontas County are speaking out in force. It’s because they care about our public lands.”

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