Tucked away in the mountains of West Virginia, but in close proximity to the urban centers of the Mid-Atlantic states, lies a natural gem rich in forests and wildflowers, bike trails and whitewater streams, and wild mountain vistas unique in the East.
A coalition of conservationists, local businesses and recreation user groups have banded together to protect 120,000 acres of the Monongahela National Forest as the Birthplace of Rivers National Monument. The poetic name refers to the six regionally significant rivers that spring forth from the heart of the proposed protected area.
Photo by Sam Taylor.
Special Places: Recreation Benefits
Protecting the Birthplace of Rivers requires either an act of Congress or a presidential designation under the Antiquities Act. Either path would permanently preserve some of the most important habitat and recreation lands in the East. At the heart of the Birthplace of Rivers is the Cranberry Wilderness, which, at 48,000 acres, is the largest swath of federally designated wilderness in the East. Many consider the Cranberry Wilderness the wildest place in the Southeast.
Traversing the proposal are the area’s namesake rivers: the Gauley, Cranberry, Greenbrier, Elk, Williams and Cherry rivers. These streams are home to native fish and internationally renowned whitewater paddling. And the forests that surround these rivers provide habitat for wildlife, including deer, turkey and bear. Hunters and anglers played a key role in defining the vision for Birthplace of Rivers. So did mountain bikers. The Tea Creek Backcountry is one of the top mountain biking destinations in the Mid-Atlantic.
Supporting the Local Economy
The Monongahela National Forest is an important economic asset for nearby communities. The forest lies within a day’s drive of one-third of the nation’s population, and attracts hundreds of thousands of visitors annually. People come to hunt and fish, ride bikes, hike, camp, climb and enjoy fall colors. These tourists spend money in local towns, providing a sustainable source of income for small businesses throughout the region. More than 200 local businesses have signed on in support of the national monument proposal, hoping to preserve this important economic driver.
Why a National Monument?
The Birthplace of Rivers coalition chose the national monument designation as the best way to preserve this special landscape. The U.S. has a rich history of designating national monuments, going back to the Teddy Roosevelt presidency. National monuments are most commonly designated by the president under the authority of the Antiquities Act. The law gives the president the authority to designate monuments to protect significant natural, cultural or scientific features. Roosevelt designated the first national monument in 1906, protecting Devils Tower in Wyoming. He later used the Antiquities Act to preserve Grand Canyon, which Congress later expanded and designated as a national park.
A national monument designation would protect the Birthplace of Rivers from mining and oil and gas drilling of federally controlled minerals, and would implement restorative timber practices. And because each new national monument must undergo a management planning process, it would give local people a voice in determining exactly how Birthplace of Rivers would be managed.
President Obama has designated 25 monuments, and the coalition hopes he will act on Birthplace of Rivers before leaving office in January. Keeping options open, the stakeholders are also working with West Virginia’s congressional delegation, urging them to introduce legislation that would secure the national monument protections legislatively. Despite widespread support for Birthplace of Rivers, the state’s congressional representatives have not yet introduced a bill.
What You Can Do
The Conservation Alliance has funded the West Virginia Rivers Coalition for their efforts to organize support for the Birthplace of Rivers. The coalition is urging people to write President Obama, urging him to designate Birthplace of Rivers National Monument.
Check out the Birthplace of Rivers Campaign for the complete story.