Manchin withdraws park study request
U.S. Senator Joe Manchin has asked the National Park Service to halt an exploratory study he requested in July 2011. The study was to determine the feasibility of establishing a national park and preserve that would encompass approximately 700,000 acres of state and federal lands in the Allegheny Highlands between Green Bank, Aurora, Elkins and Franklin.
"I believe that after performing a Reconnaissance Survey, the NPS will recognize that this area is not only a West Virginia, but also an American landmark," Manchin said in his July request.
In a letter dated March 9, Manchin said he has since received a strong response from West Virginia hunters, anglers and trappers concerned that the creation of a National Park in this area would "mark the beginning of the end of these practices inside the park boundaries."
"As I have repeatedly said, I would only support exploring the creation of a National Park Unit in West Virginia if its for the benefit of all my constituents, and respects the values and traditions of my state," Manchin said.
"I believe in public lands and in making these public lands accessible for the recreation and enjoyment of our citizens, but I have also said through this process that West Virginia's heritage, and our cherished traditions of hunting, fishing and trapping, must absolutely be protected and preserved," the Senator stated.
Manchin's letter was in response to a February 28 letter from National Park Service Director Jonathan B. Jarvis.
That letter makes no mention of hunting, fishing or trapping. However, the letter does state that "under National Park Service policies, the continuation of extractive activities such as timber harvesting and gas development would make the establishment of a national park infeasible.
On February 2, Manchin wrote Jarvis to request written assurances of the following within any new National Park unit in the Allegheny Highlands:
ﾕ that hunting, fishing and trapping rights would be "completely protected"
ﾕ that the West Virginia Department of Natural Resources would administer hunting, fishing and trapping regulations
ﾕ that trout stocking of streams and rivers would continue at the direction of the DNR
ﾕ that habitat management would continue at the direction of the DNR
ﾕ that surface, timber or mineral rights of private owners would not be denied or acquired by eminent domain
ﾕ that timber management would continue
ﾕ that oil and gas development would not be restricted
Jarvis' February 28 letter stated that "such details are beyond the scope of a limited reconnaissance survey."
"Senator Manchin asked that the National Park Service provide clear statements in writing that hunting, fishing, and trapping rights would be protected in the potential National Park Unit," said Manchin Press Secretary Marni Goldberg on Tuesday. "He pulled his support for the Reconnaissance Survey because the National Park Service did not provide these statements in their response to him."
"We're disappointed that it appears the study won't go forward," said Judy Rodd, spokesperson for Friends of High Allegheny National Park and Preserve. "We still believe this proposal would be a great economic boost to the Highlands."
Rodd said Manchin called her personally on Saturday to inform her of his request that the NPS halt its study.
Even if a park and preserve were created, Rodd said, timber and gas activity would still be permitted on privately-owned land around the park. Rodd also cited recent timber harvest figures that show most timbering in the Allegheny Highlands in recent years has been on privately managed forests and not on the Monongahela National Forest lands encompassed by the proposed park and preserve.
Friends of High Allegheny National Park and Preserve would continue to advocate for the park and preserve, Rodd said, adding that she believed its economic impact on the neighboring communities could rival that of Great Smokey Mountain National Park.
Drew Tanner may be reached by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.