CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- A plan to create West Virginia's first national monument from land encompassing the headwaters of six streams in the Monongahela National Forest is drawing support from certain forest users and forest-based businesses and at least one nearby community.
Tentative plans call for including about 123,000 acres in and around the Cranberry Wilderness in the proposed Birthplace of Rivers National Monument. The land, which would continue to be managed by the U.S. Forest Service, includes the headwaters of the Cranberry, Williams, Cherry, Greenbrier, Gauley and Elk rivers.
The proposed national monument would also include the Cranberry Wilderness, the nearby Falls of Hills Creek scenic area, the Cranberry Backcountry, Tea Creek Backcountry, Turkey Mountain Backcountry, Highland Scenic Highway and the Mill Point federal prison site.
Unlike a federal wilderness designation -- which, among other things, prohibits the use of motor vehicles and bicycles -- national monument status would not significantly change the way the land is being managed.
"It takes an area that we think is managed well and keeps it that way in perpetuity," said Phil Smith, chairman of the West Virginia Council of Trout Unlimited. "It allows more flexibility than a wilderness designation does. As a national monument, we can still have things like stream habitat restoration projects," which wouldn't be possible in a wilderness area.
All wilderness restrictions would continue to apply to the 48,000-acre Cranberry Wilderness, if it is included in the national monument as planned. But current management prescriptions, "which generally favor resource preservation and backcountry recreation," would remain in effect in the remaining 75,000 or so acres of nonwilderness land now envisioned for the national monument, according to Mike Costello, director of the West Virginia Wilderness Coalition.
"We want things like wildlife management and red spruce forest restoration to continue in the national monument," said Costello, including limited timbering to expedite management goals.
Forest users such as mountain bikers, who are prohibited from riding in wilderness areas, and trout anglers, whose streams cannot be accessed by stocking and liming trucks in wilderness areas, would have no reason to feel left out in planning for a new national monument, Costello said.
Current plans call for not allowing oil and gas development on lands with federally owned mineral rights within the proposed monument.
Both the West Virginia Council of Trout Unlimited and the International Mountain Bicycling Association support plans to create the Birthplace of Rivers National Monument, providing that the continued ability to hunt and fish and ride mountain bikes in the monument is spelled out in enabling documents.
National monument status solidifies current management policies by making them exempt from future administrative changes. National monuments are created either by congressional action or presidential proclamation.
If Birthplace of Rivers National Monument becomes a reality, according to Costello, all current recreational activities now allowed would remain open in the future, and fish and wildlife management would remain under the jurisdiction of the West Virginia Division of Natural Resources.