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Could Birthplace of Rivers Help Richwood Recover from Floods?

Tourists bike on the Williams River Road after flood damage repairs. Supporters of a new Birthplace of Rivers National Monument say it should help the area recover from this summer's storms. (Matt Kearns)
Tourists bike on the Williams River Road after flood damage repairs. Supporters of a new Birthplace of Rivers National Monument say it should help the area recover from this summer's storms. (Matt Kearns)
October 6, 2016

RICHWOOD, W. Va. – A new Birthplace of Rivers National Monument could help Richwood recover from this summer's devastating floods, according to local officials.

Richwood Mayor Bob Henry Baber said it's difficult for the city council and the local chamber of commerce to focus on much beyond immediate flood recovery right now. But he said they're all unified behind what would be the state's first national monument.

"We all know that our future for the long haul lies in tourism,” Mayor Baber said. "And the Birthplace of Rivers - that title, that name, that designation - is critical to realizing that vision."

Presidents often create new national monuments near the end of their terms. The city of Richwood would be the closest town to the portion of the southern Monongahela National Forest that would be converted into a national monument. Conservation groups backing the designation estimate it would bring 50,000 more visitors and more than $5 million a year to the area.

At least 26 West Virginians died in the June floods, and Richwood was one of the areas hit hardest. Baber said flood recovery is taking all their energy now. And he said that's frustrating, because they would like to be doing more in support of a new national monument.

"It's sort of like thinking about where you're going to be in a couple of weeks when you've got a huge gash in your arm,” he said. "But we know how beautiful the place is we live, we know how blessed we are. We just want to share it with more people, and have more people come and enjoy it."

The 120,000 acres of highlands that would become the monument include the existing Cranberry Wilderness in the Monongahela Forest. The area also includes the headwaters of the Cranberry, Cherry, Gauley, Elk, Williams and Greenbrier rivers.

Baber added that the designation wouldn't require the federal government to buy any more private land, and it would publicize to the rest of the country what's already there in the National Forest.

"Get the secret out. I just don't think enough people really are aware of the Cranberry and the Mon, and the Birthplace of Rivers designation,” the mayor said. "I think, is going to lift that up in the national consciousness."

More information about the proposed Birthplace of Rivers National Monument is online at birthplaceofrivers.org.

Dan Heyman, Public News Service - WV