May was yet another month of dealing with the restrictions associated with COVID-19. However, we are seeing states relaxing the restrictions that have kept us homebound for so long. If Memorial Day weekend was any indication, people were really moving around, most likely just wanting to get away from being hunkered down for so long. Social distancing was still in play as people were taking the risks of the Coronavirus seriously.
Monongahela National Forest Reopens Additional Recreation Sites
The Monongahela National Forest has opened additional developed recreation sites. For a full list of open areas and up-to-date information on re-openings, visit the Monongahela National Forest website at https://www.fs.usda.gov/mnf.
Most of the Monongahela National Forest is open for public use. Some recreation facilities and campgrounds are closed as they continue to balance their work in ways that allow them to adhere to their core value of safety while also following public health recommendations on social distancing according to Shawn Cochran, Forest Supervisor. They are working on this, and plan to open more recreation sites gradually over the next few weeks as they acquire additional safety equipment and cleaning supplies.
Please remember to avoid congregating at trailheads and/or parking areas and refrain from gathering in groups of more than 10 people.
Developed recreation sites that opened May 28:
· Gaudineer Knob Picnic Area
· Lake Buffalo
· Stuart Recreation Area group campsite and picnic shelters
· Horseshoe Recreation Area picnic shelters
· Dolly Sods Picnic Area
· Forest Roads 19 and 75 in the Dolly Sods area
Seneca Rocks Area
· Seneca Rocks Picnic Area picnic shelter
· Seneca Shadows Campground group campsites
· Spruce Knob/Huckleberry Trailhead parking lots and Spruce Knob Observation Tower
· Spruce Knob Lake parking lots
The Monongahela National Forest is taking the risks presented by COVID-19 seriously and will continue to monitor the local situation and Forest operations to meet changing information, safety protocols, and recommendations from Federal, State and local officials. They are committed to providing customer service and advancing recreation opportunities in an adaptable manner while monitoring health data and state orders.
Visitors are also being asked to stay as local as possible when choosing a site to visit and to pack out everything they bring, especially trash. Visitors are also urged to take the precautions recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention along with local health and safety guidance. For tips from the CDC on preventing illnesses like the coronavirus, go to: https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/about/prevention.html.
Responsible recreation will help expand access to facilities, services and other opportunities. Some services may still be unavailable, so visitors are asked to plan accordingly and to remain flexible.
ABRA is Working on a Construction Hub Program
The West Virginia Highlands Conservancy (WVHC) has provided grants to support the work of the Allegheny-Blue Ridge Alliance (ABRA) and West Virginia Rivers Coalition (WVRC) of which WVHC and WVRC are members, in overseeing construction activity of the Atlantic Coast Pipeline (ACP) to assure compliance with applicable permit and regulatory requirements of the project. This construction oversight activity is the Compliance Surveillance Initiative (CSI), a program created in early 2018 by ABRA. The core of the CSI program is a network of volunteers from communities affected by the ACP in West Virginia and Virginia. The program also involves technical and regulatory monitoring dimensions to help identify and analyze possible construction violations and report them to appropriate regulatory authorities.
During what I’ll call a “lull” in the construction of the ACP, the ABRA Board approved the development of a new program to assist member organizations and others in assessing environmental impacts named the Conservation Hub.
The Hub will be focused on reviewing and assessing land management and development proposals (beyond the current pipeline projects that are the principal focus of ABRA’s efforts) affecting the central Appalachian Highlands and adjoining areas. The intent of the Hub mapping systems is to overcome systemic limitations that regularly undermine public participation in permit review and thwart implementation of environmental regulations and policy. These limitations include lack of access to critical, but ever-changing project plans and impact analysis, consideration of individual projects or project components in isolation, and the general absence of an orderly and transparent regulatory process. The Hub mapping system, like the mapping system developed for the ABRA CSI program, would make it possible to:
- Examine construction plans and proposals in appropriate geographic, environmental, and regulatory context,
- Maintain oversight of construction compliance and performance by overlaying approved plans (erosion and sediment control, slope management, stream crossing, etc.) with georeferenced aerial photography of actual construction, and
- Track regulatory system effectiveness by mapping noncompliance and agency enforcement actions.
Development work on the Hub effort has begun and potential projects for which the new program might be used are being solicited from ABRA member organizations. The Hub will be developed and managed by ABRA staff and consultants and overseen by an advisory committee that will pass judgment on which projects are worthy of being pursued. It is anticipated that the Hub program will be fully operational later in 2020.
Trail to Connect Thomas and Davis
On May 28, Gov. Jim Justice and the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection (WVDEP) Sec. Austin Caperton held a virtual ceremony to announce the recommendation of 12 projects that will use $27,196,483 in federal grant funding for economic development of abandoned mine land sites across the state.
Friends of Blackwater (FOB) was selected by the Office of Surface Mining to create a Blackwater Loop hiking and biking trail that will safely and scenically connect the Towns of Thomas and Davis in Tucker County. The eight-mile trail will feature a bridge over the North Fork of the Blackwater as well as trailhead kiosks in each town, updated maps, historic signage, food and drink on either end, and a new and improved trail for bikers and pedestrians of all ages.
Please, everyone, stay safe during this coronavirus situation. These times are certainly unprecedented, and we need to follow the precautions recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention along with local health and safety guidance. Hope to see you on the mountains.