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Monument: Birthplace of Rivers

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Some West Virginia outdoors-lovers support a plan to bring extra distinction to the Mountain State. They want to establish a Birthplace of Rivers National Monument in a rugged section of Monongahela National Forest where six streams originate.

Go for it. We hope they succeed. Such a designation would help remind the world that West Virginia contains rare mountain majesty -- pristine, natural beauty not found in swarming urban regions.

Tentatively, the proposal would set aside about 123,000 acres encompassing special spots such as the Cranberry Wilderness, Falls of Hills Creek, Turkey Mountain Backcountry, Tea Creek Backcountry, Cranberry Glades, Highland Scenic Highway and the locale of the Mill Point federal prison.

This wild territory contains tributary headwaters of the Cranberry, Williams, Cherry, Greenbrier, Gauley and Elk rivers -- six trickling downward from a single Appalachian district.

Either Congress or the president can bestow a national monument designation. We hope that one or the other takes this action. West Virginia's members of Congress should lend their backing.

Actually, little would change under the plan, since the tract already lies within a national forest. Wilderness and backcountry management currently in place would continue. Restoration of streams and forests would be a top priority. Hunting, fishing and foraging for wild edible plants would continue, just as today. Fish and wildlife management by the state Division of Natural Resources would be unaffected. The U.S. Forest Service would continue to manage the region. Drilling, mining or other commercial development would require extra public input. Campgrounds, trails and picnic areas would be unchanged. Hardly any extra taxpayer cost would be incurred.

Researchers at Downstream Strategies calculated that national monument designation would spark extra tourism adding $14.5 million per year to the region's economy, plus 42 new jobs and $200,000 more state and local taxes.

Birthplace of Rivers would be the only national monument east of the Mississippi managed by the Forest Service. Various groups such as Trout Unlimited, the Lewisburg city council and the Pocahontas County Convention and Visitors Bureau endorse the proposal.

America has 108 national monuments, varying from the Statue of Liberty in New York's harbor to the huge 1.9 million-acre Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument in Utah. Each is different, in its own way. And each is special. We hope this effort brings a brand-new national spotlight to West Virginia.


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