By John McFerrin
The Fiftieth Anniversary celebration of the West Virginia Highlands Conservancy was that splendid combination of fun and opportunities to learn stuff. We had a paddling trip, a couple of hikes, a trip to the Allegheny Front Migration Observatory (the longest continually operating bird banding station in the United States), a tree planting, and a couple of guided bird walks.
We had panel discussions on Canaan Valley, the Monongahela National Forest, pipelines, mining litigation, and one that touched on both home solar electricity and on climate change (including the banjo, visual aids, and controlled lunacy of Tom Rodd).
There was poetry and fiddling. For pure beauty we had the photography of Kent Mason; for pure fun we had one night of vintage psychedelic surf rock with hints of island reggae and another night of square dancing. Current President Cindy Ellis had a speech on thank yous to everybody who made the West Virginia Highlands Conservancy’s success possible with a smooth segue into a round of Joe Rieffenberger stories, a genre that is broad, deep and consistently entertaining.
Finally, we had a keynote address by former Congressman Alan Mollohan. He was instrumental in the establishment of the Canaan Valley National Wildlife Refuge and was a sponsor of the Wild Monongahela Act which designated nearly 40,000 acres of Wilderness on the Monongahela National Forest. He talked about his affection for Canaan Valley and provided some insights into how the Wild Monongahela Act was developed, how it made its way through Congress, and what was important in getting it passed.
This was only the formal part of the weekend. In and among the organized hikes, paddling, panels, and presentations there was ample time for reconnecting with old friends, making new friends, telling war stories, and all such that goes on at reunions and celebrations.
There were about one hundred and thirty people at the celebration, all of whom went away well satisfied, inspired, and talking about the next celebration, whether that be in ten years or fifty.