Thoughts From Our President

By Marilyn Shoenfeld

As 2023 comes to an end, we look back on the accomplishments of the different committees of the West Virginia Highlands Conservancy, of our Program Director, of our Board of Directors and our new Membership and Operations Director. I am amazed at what we have done and awed by what we still have to do. Advocacy is more important than ever, and we need to continue our efforts to protect and preserve the beautiful West Virginia Highlands.

We appreciate you, our supporters, as we move forward with our goals. You are the reason we continue to move forward—to protect the environment for you to continue to enjoy all the Highlands has to offer as the years go by. 

I am writing this the day before my 80th birthday and am reflecting on the history of the Conservancy. I have been involved with this organization for over 20 years and have seen it grow and thrive. Many other environmental groups grew out of the work of the Conservancy and still are our partners today.

Although most of the following information was in the last issue of the Voice, I thought it bore repeating. This is a summary of the achievements of the activities of our various committees in 2023.

The Legislative Committee had several key successes in the last legislative session. Bear in mind that the 2024 legislative session is starting shortly, and the same issues will likely arise. The Committee successfully prevented the passage of a bill that would allow Off Road Vehicles to access our public lands. The PFAS Protection Act was passed. The Legislative Committee continues to support and work with the West Virginia Environmental Council to set goals and coordinate lobbying efforts.

The Dolly Sods Wilderness Stewards continues to grow and expand its efforts to protect and preserve the Dolly Sods Wilderness. The area has grown in popularity and the number of visitors has increased exponentially in the last five years. The Wilderness Stewards provide information and support good wilderness practices. Entering its third year, the program will expand to train folks for trail monitoring and maintenance as well as other efforts. Continuing to work with the United States Forest Service, the Stewards are providing a much-needed service to this unique area of the West Virginia Highlands.

The Highways Committee continues to work to reroute Corridor H to the northern alternative that avoids crossing the historic Blackwater Canyon and splitting the two sister mountain towns of Davis and Thomas. It is imperative that any unnecessary environmental harm is avoided. This has resulted in many meetings with appropriate parties, participation in hearings and comments filed on issues such as core drilling.

The Public Lands Committee continually monitors activity on public lands, especially the Monongahela National Forest. It identifies issues that need exploring, solicits public opinion and much more. This Committee been working diligently on issues that impact our public lands and you will be hearing from them a great deal in 2024.

The Extractive Industries Committee has been involved in trying to hold extractive industries to the law and has had many legal successes.

The Rivers Committee has been working on water testing relevant to the building of Corridor H. It has assembled a team of civilian water testers to gather baseline data for the waters in the affected areas. There will be many opportunities to get involved with this committee in 2024 to safeguard our waters.

The Grants Committee has been identifying sources of funds to expand our efforts in all of these areas. They have applied for and received several grants and continue to work towards those goals.

These are just a few examples of what the West Virginia Highlands Conservancy does. We are fortunate to have our members support our activities and to have the passion that is contributed to all these efforts. We always need new committee members with new ideas to aid us. Please contact us if you would like to become involved. 

Thank you for your support and have a Happy New Year!