Clinton Gabbert was drawn to the position of resource assistant at the U.S. Forest Service because he wanted to help small towns in the Monongahela National Forest thrive through the Mon Forest Towns program. S. Stewart photo

Suzanne Stewart
Staff Writer

Clinton Gabbert has only been a resource assistant at the U.S. Forest Service Marlinton office for a month, but he’s already plunged into the main focus of his job – the Mon Forest Towns project.

“That’s kind of what drew me to the job, because I’m from a small town, and I’d like to see small towns do well,” he said. “That’s why I’m here.”

Mon Forest Towns is a promotional project for 10 small towns/communities in the Monongahela National Forest. The project will assist those 10 towns in creating branding and advertising to attract visitors who enjoy the forest and encourage them to stay and enjoy the towns, as well.

“It’s just a matter of what do these towns want to do as far as the partnership as a whole and then individually,” Gabbert said. “The project is to bring new people into the Mon and to get them to these Mon Forest Towns to bring some economic activity. It’s also for the people who live in these towns and the areas around the towns to improve their quality of life and the quality of life in the communities.”

The first step in the project is to create the branding, which began before Gabbert joined the team. The project as a whole has plans and ideas laid out, but each individual town may customize the branding materials and choose a particular part of recreation for the focus of the campaign.

“Each town will be able to change the marketing materials depending on what they want to focus on,” Gabbert said. “One of the first things we’re working on is general marketing outside the area – trying to bring people into the area, attract them to the Mon and let them know what the forest has to offer.”

Gabbert is in charge of the southern zone – which consists of Cowen, Richwood, White Sulphur Springs and Marlinton. The other six towns will be coordinated by a resource assistant stationed in Parsons.

In addition to this project, Gabbert is available to work with District Ranger Cindy Sandeno on forest service related programs. He also has plans for other projects to add to the attractions in Pocahontas County.

“I’m trying to develop a birding trail that we’re going to kind of tie into the Mon Forest Towns, but it’s not technically part of that right now,” he said. “I’ve done a lot of different things so far.”

As a small town West Virginian – growing up in Lightburn, an unincorporated town near Jane Lew – Gabbert enjoyed the outdoors as a youngster, but grew out of it for a time when he was focused on high school and college. It wasn’t until he got a job with the Division of Forestry at West Virginia University that his outdoorsy self returned.

“I grew up going camping and things like that, but I kind of grew out of the outdoors a little bit in high school and college,” he said. “My bachelor’s degree is in accounting, and I did some accounting work for WVU after I graduated in their Division of Forestry. I became interested in forestry and the opportunity for me to go to grad school came up and that’s how I got into forestry.”

Once he joined the forestry department, the outdoors called him back, and Gabbert returned to camping and other outdoor activities that he continues to enjoy now.

His master’s degree is in forest economics, which could take him anywhere, but Gabbert knew –after a particular road trip – where he wanted to be.

“I wasn’t sure if I was going to stay in West Virginia at all,” he said. “I was willing to go anywhere, but this project came up in West Virginia, and I was excited. Honestly, I hadn’t been to this part of West Virginia until last summer, and I rode my motorcycle from Morgantown to Asheville [North Carolina]. I went down 219, and it’s probably the prettiest part of West Virginia as far as I’m concerned. I fell in love with it.”

With his move to Marlinton, Gabbert is excited to become part of another small town, and said he is enjoying both the office and field work with the forest service.

“While I’m here on the forest, I’m having a lot of opportunities to get some of that field experience that I didn’t get [in college] because I don’t have a forestry undergrad,” he said. “That’s very exciting to finally get some of that field experience. Getting out of the office a little bit and getting out on the Mon is definitely one of the highlights of the job. Even in the middle of the winter, it’s beautiful.”

Gabbert said he is always open to hearing from the public. Those interested in speaking with him may contact him at ccgabbert@gmail.com

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