Memories of the Early Days of the WVHC

By Rupert Cutler

I was an Assistant Executive Director of The Wilderness Society in Washington, D.C., assigned by Executive Director Stewart Brandborg to help pro-wilderness grass roots groups in the eastern states, when the West Virginia Highland Conservancy was created in 1967.  It was my good fortune to fall in with the crowd that became the organization’s founders, as I hiked and canoed the national forest roadless areas in West Virginia to identify candidate wilderness areas.

(I’d been the managing editor of the National Wildlife Federation’s magazine, National Wildlife, previous to 1965, and I left TWS in 1969 to attend Michigan State University where I received my Ph.D. degree in 1972.  My dissertation was a study of lawsuits involving the U.S. Forest Service.  I was an MSU faculty member until President Carter appointed me Assistant Secretary of Agriculture for Natural Resources and Environment in 1977.  In that capacity I supervised the U.S. Forest Service and Soil Conservation Service, now the NRCS, and initiated the Roadless Area Review and Evaluation [RARE II] that created the national roadless area inventory.)

Fifty years on, my memories of those early days of the WVHC are fragmentary at best.  I do recall brainstorming ideas for a new West Virginia conservation organization among a half-dozen save-the-back-country advocates in the farmhouse rented by D.C. canoeists Bob and Lucille Harrigan near Seneca Rocks.  The participants came from Pittsburg, Charleston, Richmond and Washington, D.C. as well as from across West Virginia.  Dave Elkinton’s book, “Fighting to Protect the Highlands,” jogged my memory with respect to the names of the founders I met with then, including Lou Greathouse, Lee Maynard, Joe Riffenberger, Joe Hutchison, and Bob Broughton.

Elkinton’s book does a great job of describing the first Fall Highlands Weekend Review on Spruce Knob in October of 1965 during which this photo was taken.  You can see Joe Hutchison seated behind me.  Joe was master of ceremonies for the “camp meeting” we had in the cold rain under a big church revival tent.  I was reciting a list of all the development projects being proposed for the highlands that we conservationists were concerned about, including the Highland Scenic Highway, Royal Glen Dam and more ARC highways.

Our audience of influential people included Senator Robert Byrd, Interior Secretary Stewart Udall, and Monongahela National Forester Ephe Olliver.  We hoped they’d get the point that West Virginia conservationists—and nonresidents who also cherished the West Virginia back country and wild rivers—were in the process of becoming politically organized and that they would hear from us on a continuing basis.  That embryonic political force became the West Virginia Highland Conservancy.

I have reservations at the Canaan Valley Resort for September 15-17 and I’m looking forward to recollections of the founding days.