A year ago, West Virginia Rivers held community conversations through Zoom to discuss and collect data on the recreational use of the Monongahela National Forest. After collecting all the data, the group released a study called “Our Wild and Wonderful Mon.”
After releasing the study, WVR has traveled to towns in the Mon to present the data and gather more public input on ways the improve access to – while also preserving – the forest.
Last Wednesday, Mike Jones, public lands campaign coordinator for West Virginia Rivers, and project consultant Jeremy Morris presented the study at Discovery Junction in Marlinton.
“What West Virginia Rivers really wanted to look at was non-motorized recreational users in the Mon Forest – so we interviewed hikers, paddlers, trail and mountain bikers, anglers, hunters, campers, bird watchers, people who are into native plants and invasive species and people who advocate for accessibility in the forest,” Morris said.
While the majority of those involved in the study were West Virginians, Morris said there were also individuals from Texas, Wis- consin, Michigan and Montana who joined the Zoom meetings.
Once all the information was collected and organized, Morris said there were nine topics that topped the list during the discussions.
“One topic that came up throughout every single meeting – regardless of the recreational activity – was trail management,” he said. “Everyone in the region is seemingly concerned about the state’s trails – whether this is local community trails or forest service land.”
With forest service efforts going into other projects and a dwindling federal budget, Morris said people are concerned with a lack of trail management. Trail maintenance has been taken care of by volunteers and trail groups, but people have said they would like to see trail management be a higher priority in the forest service.
The second most discussed topic was the condition of Dolly Sods Wilderness.
“In every single meeting, it was brought up about the number of people there, the degradation to solitude in wilderness and how we work at making sure that what is currently happening at Dolly Sods doesn’t happen to our other wilderness areas,” Morris said. “Dolly Sods is one of those sacred places for West Virginians and people in that entire region, but it’s also been the poster child for tourism for a long time.”
Morris said participants suggesting that advertising organizations should try to avoid using locations like Dolly Sods as the main focus of an ad campaign to attract tourists.
Other topics that were the main focus of the study were: the conservation of headwaters in the Mon Forest; mapping the forest; United States Geologic Survey gages for the rivers; addressing non-native invasive species; accessibility to the forest for those with disabilities; a bridge bill which will give the right-of-way to those using rivers and streams under new bridges; and finding funding for the Mon.
After Morris finished his presentation, those in attendance were asked to select their personal top three from those nine topics and engage in a conversation about those topics.
The study – “Our Wild and Wonderful Mon” – may be found online at wvrivers.org