WV Public Lands: Advocacy Works; Watoga State Park; Earth Day

Legislative Session Ends With Many Bills Threatening Public Lands Defeated

The legislative session is over for 2022. There was a lot of successes for public lands this year! Read a blog by WV Rivers’ public lands coordinator, Mike Jones.

The e-Bike bill, the ‘adopt-a-trail’ proposal to end local control over volunteer trail management programs, and other bills that we were concerned would open our public lands to ATVs and other off-road vehicles or other inappropriate uses of our state lands all died in committee.

One bill that did pass – with just 30 minutes to spare – was HB 4408. This is the bill that allows private leasing in state parks and forests. It also greatly lengthened the lease terms.

Because of the efforts of West Virginia Rivers Coalition, West Virginia Environmental Council, West Virginia Highlands Conservancy, other groups in the West Virginians for Public Lands alliance, and – most importantly – everyday West Virginians who all love our public lands, Charleston was flooded with thousands of messages opposing HB 4408. Check out this editorial from Highland Outdoors opposing the bill.

Your grassroots advocacy made a real difference! The final version of HB 4408 was amended to better preserve our state parks and forests. Here’s how:

  • A public hearing must be held in the county where the state land is located about any new private lease.
  • Proposed private facilities have to conform with the purposes of our state parks and forests.
  • The maximum possible lease term was shortened.
  • Multiple administrative agencies have to approve a new lease.
  • Notice has to be given to key legislative committees.
  • Watoga State Park was completely exempted from HB 4408 because of its Dark Sky Park designation. Read more below!

These guardrails will help preserve our state lands and give the public the opportunity to have a say in how OUR state parks and forests are used. Give yourselves a well-deserved pat on the back for improving this bill.

Public Lands Advocacy Happens All Year

Telling decision-makers, like the West Virginia Legislature, why public lands are important to us is a year-round project. Sure, there is a lot of effort during the 60-day legislative session. But the truth is, many of the bills we defeated this year will be back next session, and/or discussed in interim sessions.

Bill sponsors know how powerfully we advocate when our public lands are threatened. They will be ready with new tactics to advance their bills next year. Letters, emails, and calls are so important. We also know that building relationships between constituents and legislators is extremely important

Dolly Sods. Photo by Kent Mason.

Legislators are OUR representatives. They have local offices near your home, find your legislators and their offices. The 60-day session is extremely busy, but the rest of the year is an opportunity to reach out to your Senators and Delegates. Build a relationship with them and let them know how important public lands are to you!

In the coming months, we’ll be sharing information on ‘how to talk to your legislator’ training sessions. We will equip you with techniques to effectively advocate. If you are interested in this training, or want more information, please email Mike Jones.

Meet YOUR Public Lands: The Dark Sky Park

We always want to take a few moments and remember why public lands – and the habitats and species – are so important. Sometimes, it is the dark sky that sets these special places apart!

Today, meet your West Virginia Watoga State Park. Located in Pocahontas County, near Marlinton, Watoga is West Virginia’s largest state park. More than 15 hiking trails (some with pedal bicycle access) lead you to overlooks, an arboretum, the Ann Bailey Lookout Tower, camping, fishing, and views of the Greenbrier River.

Just across the river is the 78-mile-long Greenbrier River Trail. Here is a trail map. Please share any photos you have of Watoga!

“Watoga” means ‘starry waters’ in Cherokee. These dark starry skies are rare in the Eastern US and won Watoga designation as a “Dark Sky Park” by the International Dark-Sky Association. This designation led the WV Legislature to exempt Watoga from private leasing approved for other State Parks and Forests.

Watoga also is one of only a few US location for Synchronous Fireflies. This is the only US firefly species that can synchronize their flashing light patterns. Nearby Calvin Price State Forest and Droop Mountain Battlefield State Park also are recognized as Dark Sky Parks, but are not protected from private leasing.

Opportunities to Celebrate Earth Day

We all know the history of Earth Day. April 20, 1970 turned into one of the largest one-day mass mobilization event ever: awareness of the importance of caring for our environment.

The excitement from that first Earth Day led to the passage of the Clean Water Act, Clean Air Act, Endangered Species Act, and other important environmental protection laws! Now. Earth Day is an annual event.

Here in West Virginia, clean-up projects, bird watching hikes, awareness programs, fun-runs and 5K races, and events on our public lands all bring attention to environmetal issues.

Photo by Joel Preston Smith. 

We want to know how you plan to celebrate Earth Day. Email us information about any upcoming events, we’ll share them in WV Rivers’ April E-news. Make sure you email your events by April 11 to be included.

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