Thoughts from the Vice President

By Luanne McGovern

I just returned from a wonderful two-week trip to Ireland, the Emerald Isle. I have to say, though, that West Virginia in May is even greener than Ireland! Being in Ireland made me think a lot about the similarities and differences between our two countries since so many of us can trace our roots back to that country, and many of our ancestors came to West Virginia in search of a (hopefully) better life. Unfortunately, many found their way to the coal mines, living a tough life to provide for their families and future generations. That struggle continues today in so much of the coalfields, as coal companies keep promising prosperity, but deliver only devastation to the people and the land.

Every inch of the land in Ireland has been settled, farmed, and fought over for millennia. The concept of public lands is very new in Ireland and consists of only about 1 percent of the total land mass. I contrast that with our beautiful public lands here in the United States that are being protected and preserved for future generations, with over 840 million acres, or about 35 percent of our land mass. This is the fight that the West Virginia Highlands Conservancy has been engaged in for over 50 years, especially here in the Highlands, where you can find some of the most unique and beautiful lands anywhere. I think Chimney Top on North Fork Mountain and Bear Rocks Preserve are every bit as beautiful as the Cliffs of Moher. 

Another observation was the lack of single-use plastic everywhere I went in Ireland. In hotels, restaurants, and stores – it was very rare to see any single-use plastic bottles, bags, or wrapping. Sustainability seemed to be at the forefront of the mind throughout the country. I contrast that with the proliferation of plastic in the US, a huge problem that keeps getting bigger.  The increase in fracking of natural gas is a direct cause of this increase in plastic use, as energy and chemical companies are finding ways to convert natural gas to high-value products. It is a struggle to avoid single-use plastic in our daily lives, but as Ireland shows, it can be done.

While I was vacationing in Ireland, the WVHC team has been hard at work.  

  • Our team sponsored and tabled at the 30th annual Cheat River Festival, engaging with over 100 individuals over the two days, and had a great time doing it.  
  • WVHC staff, board members and volunteers joined a gathering of more than 15 industry stakeholders and experts to discuss several topics related to West Virginia Public Lands. Discussions surrounded wildlife corridors, current forestry activities and trail development efforts throughout the state.  
  • The first Mountain Odyssey outing was held on Mother’s Day with a bird walk at Blackwater Falls State Park led by Casey Rucker. We have many more outings planned for this summer. We hope to see you out there.
  • The Dolly Sods Wilderness Stewards held the Trailhead Stewards training and annual picnic on May 18 at Seneca Rocks Discovery Center. Nine new people were trained as Trailhead Stewards.  
  • At the annual Wilderness Stewards picnic, the following people were recognized for their contribution of at least 40 hours in volunteer time during 2023: Tammie Smith, Frank O’Hara, Judy O’Hara, David Mong, Marjorie McDiarmid, William Ross, Chris Longe, John Hedges, Jay Lietzow, Ryan Fitzpatrick, Elizabeth Olmo, Ben Wiles, Haley Hoffman and Keren Hedges. Each was given a Hydroflask tumbler with the WVHC logo, and a gift card for REI. WVHC is very thankful to these individuals for their time and commitment to stewarding Dolly Sods Wilderness Area.
  • WVHC joined Friends of Cheat, West Virginia Rivers Coalition, and the Tygart Valley Watershed Association for a day on the water, learning and playing with 5th-grade students from Beverly Elementary School. During this day, WVHC helped educate students about BMIs, how to use tools to sample and identify them, and what that means for water quality. There were discussions with students regarding how they can be stewards of improved water quality and get more involved with protecting the environment.

Did you get a chance to see the Aurora Borealis on the night of May 10? The entire island of Ireland was blessed with clear skies and I got the chance to see and photograph the northern lights for the very first time. Other photos from West Virginia and across the country were simply amazing. It’s wonderful to see that something in nature can still bring awe and delight to millions of people. Slainte!