Mon Forest Towns executive director Josh Nease may have grown up in Harrison County, but he spent a lot of time visiting the Monongahela National Forest as a child – exploring all the towns and features the 921,000 acre forest has to offer.
“I’ve been coming to the Mon since I was a kid and visiting the Mon forest towns since I was a kid,” he said. “I believe that these towns are all wonderful places and have a lot to offer.”
It was fitting that Nease became the organization’s executive director in March, considering his experience with the forest. Along with gaining Nease in March, the organization also gained its 501(c)3 non-profit designation, which will open doors for funding to help promote the Mon Forest Towns.
“I think that the Mon Forest is a wonderful asset and has a ton to offer,” Nease said. “I think if we can help towns coordinate with the forest service and better promote and manage the asset that is the Mon Forest, it will benefit everyone.”
Mon Forest Towns was founded in 2020 and 12 towns within the forest have joined the collaboration to promote themselves as attractions inside the forest. Mon Forest Towns are: Thomas, Davis and Parsons, in Tucker County; Petersburg, in Grant County; Elkins, in Randolph County; Seneca Rocks and Franklin, in Pendleton County; Durbin and Marlinton, in Pocahontas County; Cowen, in Webster County; Richwood, in Nicholas County; and White Sulphur Springs, in Greenbrier County.
“I’m excited to see more recreational resources and see more businesses and local economy grow in the Mon Forest Towns,” Nease said. “I want to see these towns thriving the way they want to thrive and grow in the way they want to grow.”
Although each Mon Forest Town has its own unique attractions and reasons for visitors to explore them, they all have one very important resource in common – the forest.
“I think [the attraction to the forest] is different for everyone,” Nease said. “For me, I think what attracted me to it as a kid was just how wild it felt to me and how vast it felt to me. As an adult, I probably take advantage of the Mon, use the Mon Forest, in different ways than I did as a kid.
“It’s a special place in that sense,” he continued. “It has enough to offer anybody that wants to be outside. I think it allows people to slow down the pace of life a little bit and a lot of places in the Mon, you’re forced to unplug a little bit, and I think a combination of all those things really can change people’s lives.”
Now a month into his position, Nease said he is settling in and getting a feel for what he hopes to accomplish with the program.
“Over the next year or so, I think we’ll be focusing on transitioning Mon Forest Towns from being this collaborative partnership to a business – a 501(c)3 business – that’s still a collaborative partnership, but will be developed in a business plan and functioning a little differently, and driven by the values of the towns.
“I think that will be a big piece of what will happen in the next year,” he continued. “We want to find some way to lift up all the towns together, pursue perhaps some collaborative project across all the towns – related to outdoor recreation – and connect all the towns in that way.”
Nease, who resides in Canaan Valley, said he is excited about the opportunities in West Virginia to promote and expand on the recreational use of not only the Monongahela National Forest, but the towns in the forest that have a lot of fun outdoor activities to experience.
“There’s so much going on in the state right now with development of the outdoor recreation economy,” he said. “It’s just something else in West Virginia that we can add to the things that are already going on. I think that’s super exciting. We have such a huge asset and resource in the Mon Forest, and we just need to keep working on maximizing that.”