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Birthplace of Rivers National Monument Could Bring Area Gains

Backers have high hopes for the economic impact of a proposed Birthplace of Rivers National Monument for eastern West Virginia. (Samuel Taylor)
Backers have high hopes for the economic impact of a proposed Birthplace of Rivers National Monument for eastern West Virginia. (Samuel Taylor)
April 18, 2016

RICHMOND, Va. - Economic research is lending support to folks backing a new Birthplace of Rivers National Monument in eastern West Virginia.

A report from the group Small Business Majority found national monuments contributed more than $150 million a year to local economies.

A previous study, specifically about the birthplace proposal, said it would support 140 more jobs a year in Richwood, Marlinton and other towns near the Virginia border.

Lewisburg Mayor John Manchester says monument status would let the outside world know how wonderful that wilderness is.

"Not only for the people that are here that enjoy it and always have," he says. "But to really put yourself on the map and say 'this is something special you ought to come and look at what we have.' And they probably have never been to your neck of the woods before."

More than 200 area small business owners and community officials have joined the effort to get the White House to make the designation. It involves federal land that's already part of the Monongahela National Forest.

Manchester says some have expressed concern about the feds expanding their holdings in the area, but notes many were reassured to learn the land is already under federal ownership.

He says folks in Lewisburg were interested to learn that new national monuments in other states created a 40 percent jump in visitors the first year, which could mean tens of thousands of new tourists, especially since there are no other wilderness monuments in the area.

"There are no other ones around here," he says. "Wildlife and the hiking and the biking and the hunting and fishing associated with that. What it does is it puts you on the map as offering something special."

Manchester says around the U.S. and around the world, beautiful mountain streams like those making up the headwaters there are becoming increasingly prized.

"Clean water is becoming a much more valued asset," says Manchester. "And at the headwaters of so many rivers, those are pristine streams."

The birthplace backers hope to for monument status approval by the end of 2016.

Dan Heyman, Public News Service - VA