WV Public Lands Update: February 2022

WV Legislature: Bills Advancing to Expand Long-Term Private Leases in State Parks and Forests

Two bills are moving through the legislature that have similar provisions: to expand and extend the lease terms for private companies to develop and operate facilities and recreational activities for all of our state parks and forests. The bills give the Director of the WV Division of Natural Resources the sole authority to decide what kind of recreational activities and facilities can be developed by private companies on our state public lands, and can set those lease terms for a 50 year period.

Blackwater Canyon.

The House version of the bill, HB 4408, passed the Natural Resources Committee on February 16 and the Government Organization Committee earlier this week. It is now on the House Floor for amendments and vote in the next 3 days. The Senate bill, SB 485, passed the Natural Resources Committee on February 21 and is in the Finance Committee.

These bills open the door for profit-driven private investors to build and operate new facilities and recreational activities in all our state parks and forests for up to 50 years. There are no guardrails limiting the types of new facilities and activities allowed. Casinos, racetracks, amusement parks, ATV trails or similar developments could be built on our state’s public lands. There are no provisions for assessing the economic and environmental impacts of these new 50-year projects, or how they may interfere with access to and the enjoyment of existing outdoor recreation activities.

Let your legislators know you love what our state parks currently offer and oppose these bills!

New E-Bike Category in Proposed Legislation Not Sufficiently Studied

A new bill, SB 560, creates a new class of e-bikes called “Class 2 E-bike.” This new designation recognizes e-bikes that do NOT require the rider to peddle for the engine to engage. Instead, these bikes are self-propelled motorized e-bikes.

Current law allows peddle assist e-bikes on public bike and multiuse trails. If SB 560 is adopted, self propelled e-bikes would also be permitted on these trails.

SB 560 passed the Senate on a 22-11 vote; and now has been sent to House Judiciary. There are real concerns about the impacts of a fully motorized off-road vehicle for noise, water quality and habitat protection, maintenance of our trails, and even personal insurance requirements. We urge further study. Contact the members of House Judiciary and urge them to table this bill for further study, local public land management assessment, and input from DNR.

Multiple Bills Introduced to Allow Off Road Vehicles on Public Lands

In many ways the e-bike bill feels like a first step towards allowing more off road vehicles (ORV) on our public lands. A number of other bills have been introduced by Senator Mark Maynard to open the door for ORVs, so far none of these bills have been discussed in committee.

These bills include SB 563SB 564SB 565SB 566, and SB 579. We’ll let you know if any of these progress.

Meet YOUR Public Lands: Cathedral State Park

There are always concerns and new challenges to address to maintain and retain our public lands. But, we should always take some time to just ENJOY the beauty, history, and recreation opportunities available to all West Virginians in our public lands. This newsletter will feature a public land each issue. With 35 state parks, 9 state forests, and multiple state wildlife management areas; all the national parks, monuments, forests, heritage areas, and refuges; and not to mention all the county and city public lands, there are plenty to choose from.

Today: Meet Cathedral State Park. This 133-acre state park has the state’s largest old growth forest. Old growth forests are important for the extensive plant and species habitat, and store significant amounts of carbon. Cathedral State Park contains about 170 species of trees, ferns, and wildflowers along 3 miles of hiking trails. This state park is located along Route 50 in Preston County. View a park map.

Have a favorite photo of Cathedral State Park? Share it with us!

The Mon Forest and its Many Headwaters

The Monongahela National Forest streams are headwaters to the Potomac and many West Virginian rivers such as the Greenbrier, Cherry, Elk, Tygart, and Gauley Rivers. Together, these rivers flow east into the Chesapeake Bay area and west to feed the Monongahela River, the Ohio River, and ultimately into the Mississippi River. The area is a historic and cultural center for West Virginia.

In The Last Forest, Pocahontas County author G.D. McNeill wrote of the pre-industrial importance of this landscape, to local communities and the broader region. McNeill’s daughter and former state Poet Laureate, Louise McNeill Pease, followed suit and wrote extensively about her experience in the area. The McNeills’ writings describe how the landscape provided for Appalachian people and their unique way of life.

North Fork of the Cherry River.

These headwaters flow through iconic parts of the Mon: Cranberry Glades, Honeycomb Rocks, and the backcountry areas of Tea Creek and Turkey Mountain. Headwaters provide habitat for diverse endangered, listed, and other species. Recreation opportunities include hunting, fishing, hiking, scenic drives, bird watching, mountain biking, cross-country skiing, and boating. Mon Forest headwaters are critically important for much of the drinking water for West Virginia, and people downstream.

The National Forest Service has long considered portions of Shavers Fork, Dry Fork, Blackwater, Glady Fork, Laurel Fork, Otter Creek, Red Creek, South Branch Potomac and North Fork of South Branch Potomac, Seneca Creek, Williams, and North Fork Cherry as potentially eligible for scenic, wild, or recreation designations under the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act.

The Forest Service manages these forest streams and rivers with special care, but they are not fully protected by the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act. Budget cuts and other pressures limit what the Forest Service can do. Last Fall, WV Rivers held multiple listening sessions for stakeholders in the Mon to discuss outdoor recreation and environmental quality. One of the issues identified was protection of headwaters,

Wouldn’t it be great if these headwaters – so vital to tourism, recreation opportunities, and economic prosperity – could receive additional protections?

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