By John McFerrin
In some ways, the July meeting of the Board of the West Virginia Highlands Conservancy was an ordinary Board meeting. Yet while we didn’t make any momentous decisions, the meeting itself was both momentous and inspiring.
It was momentous for two reasons. First, it was Marilyn Shoenfeld’s first meeting as president. Great job, especially for a rookie. Second, it was momentous for the bombshell that Cindy Rank dropped near the end. All good things have to come to an end sooner or later; we just wish it could have been later, a lot later.
The meeting was inspiring because of all the stuff we are doing. Most of the meeting was taken up with reports from committee chairs about what committees are up to. It is a lot. It makes us feel good about the organization.
We kicked things off with Membership and Fulfillment Secretary Cristyn (Crys) Bauer reporting on our membership and the inventory in the store. Of the things we are tracking (members, new members, donations), it appears that all are flat or rising. We are on track to meet our budgeted goal revenue from memberships for the year. She also laid out the timeline for our fall fund appeal. The planning begins in early September, with the goal of the fundraising letter going out in mid-November.
Communications Director Olivia Miller reported that the engagements on our social media pages continue to grow. (21st Century, here we come!) For example, 33,959 individual accounts saw a post on our Facebook page in the last three months. We nominally had a page on Linkedin (a page with our name but nothing else). She has filled that out. We have 1,666 people who have signed up to get emails from us; they are opening the emails at a rate that is about the industry average. The Voice still comes out every month; as always, she would like contributions. She has spiffed up the website, including adding a form where people may join.
Program Director Cory Chase reported on what he has been doing. He has been doing some administrative things, such as upgrading our Slack account, helping set up a point-of-sale system, and doing succession planning (organizing our records so that as Board members and personnel change, things are not lost). Cory has also helped organize outings and is working with the Central Appalachian Spruce Restoration Initiative (CASRI) and the Choose Clean Water Coalition. He is also helping plan the Fall Review.
Treasurer Bob Marshall reported on the state of the treasury. He reported that revenue from memberships remains strong, something he sees as a sign of organizational strength. He also reported that, while we had budgeted for a deficit, he does not think the deficit will be as bad as we thought it might be.
Luanne McGovern was absent but had sent a report on legislative matters. We are meeting monthly with our partners at the West Virginia Environmental Council. They are starting to pencil in priorities for the next legislative session (Community solar, PFAS in drinking water, orphaned and abandoned gas wells, and anything public lands.)
Luanne had also sent a report on the new Grant Committee. This is a new committee. It had its first meeting on July 3, has nine enthusiastic members, and has high hopes of securing grants to address shortfalls in funding that could be addressed through grants.
George Hack presented a report on the work of the Futures Committee. We had the facilitated meeting in April, focusing on the organization’s future and how we might improve. The Futures Committee has been focusing on implementing the suggestions that came out of that meeting. It paid particular interest to making us financially sustainable. Our current budget is a deficit budget. While we can cover the deficit from our savings for right now, we cannot do that forever.
Dave Johnston reported on how the Wilderness Stewards are doing. The program is growing: there was another training in May, and now there is greater coverage at trailheads. We will never reach the point where there is a Steward at all trailheads all the time, but the coverage has increased. They recently held a picnic featuring recognition of the Stewards who have been most active.
There are other activities, both planned and accomplished. They plan a series of hikes within Dolly Sods for the Stewards to have fun and learn more about the Wilderness.
They have trained five Stewards as trainers so that now they can do their own training rather than depending upon the Forest Service. The crosscut sawyer team has completed several projects and has even done work in the Otter Creek Wilderness. Before the Stewards may do trail maintenance, the Forest Service wants to study the environmental impact of the maintenance so that is not yet off the ground.
Dave went to a West to Wilderness training in May. There he hobnobbed with others doing similar work and got some new ideas. The Stewards also plan to continue their solitude monitoring, using methods that will give them more useable data.
Rick Webb reported on the activities of the Allegheny-Blue Ridge Alliance Conservation Hub. It maintains and organizes a mountain of information on conservation-related issues, most of which are of interest to the West Virginia Highlands Conservancy. It is considering expanding with pages devoted to coal waste impoundments and the proposed NIOSH experimental mine near Mace, West Virginia. Building capacity is always a goal, seeking to provide as much information as possible while still maintaining quality.
Larry Thomas reported on public lands. He is still active in the West Virginians for Public Lands. One of their primary interests remains the threat of off-road vehicles on public lands.
Susan Rosenblum reported on the activities of the Rivers Committee. It continues its work on water monitoring on Corridor H, establishing a baseline before and during construction. There will be a picnic with Friends of the Cheat in August. The Committee is also looking at proposed routes of Corridor H very close to Big Run Bog and how we might best protect that asset from construction damage. Finally, the West Virginia Department of Highways has a manual of best practices that, if used, will control sediment from construction projects. The first difficulty is that the Department of Highways does not always insist that its own recommended practices be followed. Second, what are considered best practices in West Virginia are not as effective at preventing erosion as those in nearby states. The Committee is looking at ways to address both of those problems.
Cindy Rank had submitted a written report on ongoing activities. Not much is new; we are just progressing slowly but surely.
The bombshell announcement was that the Friends of the Little Kanawha, which Cindy represents on the Board, is dissolving. As a result, Cindy will no longer be on the Board. This announcement resulted in much weeping, wailing, and gnashing of teeth.
Hugh Rogers reported on Corridor H. The Department of Highways is still stubbornly clinging to its routing decision. He did not have much to say besides what he had already said in the Voice.
Buff Rodman reported that the Nominating Committee is springing into action. It is seeking suggestions on new Board members and would welcome any ideas. Committee members are Marilyn Shoenfeld, Buff Rodman, Cindy Ellis and Larry Thomas.