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Questions surround proposed national park

When news came down that a chunk of West Virginia's mountain highlands might be considered for national park status, reactions ranged from giddy delight to horrified anguish.

The story broke Tuesday, when the Gazette's Paul Nyden revealed that Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., had sanctioned a National Park Service suitability study. According to pro-park activist Judy Rodd, who was quoted in Nyden's story, the park would encompass much of the northern part of the Monongahela National Forest as well as Blackwater Falls and Canaan Valley state parks.

Environmental advocates are tickled pink because they see national park status as a means to an end - timbering, gas drilling and other resource-based uses of the northern Mon Forest could come to a screeching halt.

Many sportsmen are horrified because they view national park status as a possible end to hunting, trout stockings, trapping, ramp digging, morel hunting and ginseng digging within the proposed park's boundaries.

I pointed out some of the potential pitfalls in my Wednesday Woods and Waters blog post. Within hours, I received responses from Rodd and Manchin clarifying their positions on the issues of hunting and fishing.

"Hunting would be allowed in the proposed High Allegheny Park and Preserve and in fact would be encouraged. Fishing would also be a main attraction," Rodd wrote.

Note the language Rodd used. "Park and Preserve" is a special designation that allows hunting within park borders. Examples include Denali and Wrangell-St. Elias in Alaska and Big Cypress in Florida.

When Manchin's press secretary, Marni Goldberg, contacted me, she also referred to the proposed park as a preserve. She insisted that Manchin would never do anything that would ban hunting, and she e-mailed me a formal statement from the senator to that effect:

"Senator Manchin is a lifelong hunting enthusiast and is committed to making sure that the Alleghany Highlands remain open to hunting if the area receives a new designation from the National Parks Service," the statement read.

The designation as a preserve appears to settle the hunting question, but other questions remain.

The most ticklish, at least from a sporting standpoint, is the question of whether trout stockings would be permitted. At several national parks, brown trout and rainbow trout are considered non-native species. Stockings of them have been halted, and, in the case of Great Smoky Mountains National Park, efforts have been made to eradicate wild and reproducing populations of them.

Should the Park Service extend their non-native species policy toward the proposed High Allegheny Park and Preserve, stockings of browns and rainbows into the Blackwater River, the North Fork of the South Branch, Dry Fork, Gandy Creek, Glady Fork and the East and West forks of the Greenbrier could end.

Trappers might also lose out. When Congress created the New River Gorge National River in Southern West Virginia, the state's congressional delegation took care to write specific language into the enabling legislation to ensure that hunting would be allowed. No language was inserted to allow trapping. To this date, trapping is prohibited there.

And then there are lesser-known pursuits such as ramp digging, morel hunting and ginseng digging. Some parks allow them, others prohibit them. The rules appear to depend on environmental and human-use factors.

According to the Park Service website, Congress could allow any or all of the aforementioned activities, or even oil and gas drilling if they so desired. Everything appears to hinge on the enabling legislation's specific language.

So tighten your shoelaces. The legislative path toward this park could get mighty rocky.


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