Birthplace of Rivers Up for Possible National Monument Status
CHARLESTON, W.Va. - The Birthplace of Rivers in the eastern West Virginia mountains would become the next national monument if a coalition of conservationists has its way.
The 120,000 acres of highlands includes the existing Cranberry Wilderness in the Monongahela National Forest, and contains the headwaters of a half-dozen rivers. Phil Smith, past president of the West Virginia chapter of Trout Unlimited, said he fishes there all the time. It's an extraordinary place, he said, and not just because it has some of the best trout fishing in the East.
"This area is so special it should be a star on the map," he said, "and because the area's temporarily managed now, we want to make sure that it stays managed the way it is today."
Hunters, anglers and others are calling on the White House to name the Birthplace of Rivers a national monument. Presidents often name new monuments in their last year in office. The coalition estimates that monument status would bring 50,000 visitors and more than $5 million a year to the area.
Outdoor recreation means billions to folks such as Bruce Donaldson, owner of Four Seasons Outfitters in Richwood. He said the area's wilderness already attracts a variety of visitors but is still underutilized. Donaldson said he thinks monument status would be good for local business, without inconveniencing residents.
"Tourism is a huge business for us," he said. "Simple fact of it is, if I didn't have the tourism business coming into my store each and every day, I wouldn't have my doors open tomorrow."
President Obama has designated 22 national monuments, but the only three in the eastern United States all are structures. Monument status for the Birthplace of Rivers makes a special kind of sense to Smith, who said it's an excellent example of the kind of landscape to which West Virginians feel a deep connection.
"People escape to the mountains, and we get to know these places so intimately that it almost feels like a second home to us, and we take such pride in them," he said. "We identify with that place - that is West Virginia."
Critics of the idea say the federal government already owns too much land, or that adding more would cut the area off from potential development, mining, and oil and gas drilling.
More information is online at birthplaceofrivers.org.
Support for this reporting was provided by Pew Charitable Trusts.