There are 108 national monuments in the United States, ranging from the tiny Statue of Liberty National Monument in New York Harbor to the 1.9 million-acre Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument in Utah. The National Park Service manages 79 of the monuments, while the Bureau of Land Management is in charge of 19, and the U.S. Forest Service and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service each manage seven.
Birthplace of Rivers would be the first national monument in the East to be managed by the U.S. Forest Service.
"Nothing in this proposal is set in stone," said Smith. "We're asking the public for support in continuing the planning process and defining what the boundaries will be."
National monument status, Smith said, would "highlight the region's natural heritage and historic value," and increase interest in visiting the area.
"The area already has trails, campgrounds and visitor centers," Costello said, so no significant outlay of new money would be needed to accommodate national monument users. "It will bring sustainable economic benefits to the area."
Costello said one of the biggest challenges facing those who want to make Birthplace of Rivers National Monument a reality is simply "getting folks to come to the table and be open to a new idea."
Since there is no single template for creating a national monument or a plan for running it, "we have the power to define what it should be," he said. "If enough people come to the table, we can come up with a proposal that works for everyone."
There are a number of misconceptions about what national monument status would mean for the area, Costello said. Among things a national monument designation would not do, he said, is affect private landowners, since the land in question is already a part of the Monongahela National Forest. Hunting, fishing, berry picking and similar activities now taking place on the forest would continue in the proposed national monument.
"Overall, every monument designation is unique and reflects the needs and opportunities of that particular situation," U.S. Forest Service Chief Thomas Tidwell wrote in a letter sent earlier this year to address questions raised by the Pocahontas County Commission. "Monument designations typically complement the underlying forest management plan, which is developed with public input. Regarding your questions on various management activities -- hunting, fishing, trout stocking, camping, vegetative management treatments, etc. -- what is permitted under the current forest plan would typically continue as a national monument."
National monument status would "not automatically lead to new fees" for campgrounds or other amenities, Tidwell continued, and would not affect federal payments in lieu of property taxes now made to counties in the Monongahela National Forest through the Secure Rural Schools Act.
Lewisburg City Council and the Pocahontas County Convention and Visitors Bureau have signed on in support of continuing the planning process for the monument. Support will be sought from other city, county and regional organizations in the area, Costello and Smith said.
For more information on the Birthplace of Rivers National Monument proposal, visit www.birthplaceofrivers.org.
Reach Rick Steelhammer at rsteelham...@wvgazette.com or 304-348-5169.