The West Virginia Land Trust has acquired a 123 acre parcel of land on Bickle Knob. It had to borrow the money for the acquisition; now it has undertaken a fundraising campaign to repay the loan.
The parcel is just below the Bickle Knob observation tower. Although it is surrounded by National Forest land, it was not part of the National Forest. Much of the appeal of the Bickle Knob observation tower is the view. Since the parcel is part of the view it is important that it be protected as well. Because of this, the Land Trust was interested in buying it when it was offered for sale.
“When Coastal Lumber announced that this tract would be sold at auction, we became concerned,” said Ashton Berdine, Lands Program Manager of the Land Trust. Worried that a ‘donut hole’ of private land, surrounded by National Forest just below the Bickle Knob observation tower, might be developed and alter the view and the use of property along Stuart Memorial Drive, the organization responded quickly to submit a closed bid. “Knowing how important this property is to the community, we borrowed money to purchase it, and our bid was the winning one,” continued Berdine, an Elkins resident.
“Bickle Knob tract is such a well-known piece of our local landscape,” said Jim VanGundy, a local volunteer who is helping organize the campaign to raise $100,000 to pay off the loan. “We’re really fortunate that the Land Trust was willing to take on this project. I hope the Randolph County community will rally to support this cause to ensure that it will be conserved permanently.”
On a 10-mile jaunt along Stuart Memorial Drive, visitors can enjoy spectacular views, see unique limestone geology, access trailheads into Otter Creek Wilderness Area, visit iconic red spruce forests, appreciate luxurious rhododendron blooms, clamber on Bear Heaven rock house and boulders, and be reminded of the rich history of the Civilian Conservation Corps with a monument dedicated to Franklin Delano Roosevelt.
“Many people who live in Randolph County, as well as visitors, have a strong personal connection to Bickle Knob,” said Dave Clark, a Board member of the Land Trust and a resident of Beverly. “Weddings, memorial services, star gazing, hunting, and family reunions in the area have touched the lives of thousands of people. Paying off the loan to make sure that the property is conserved permanently is a priority for the Land Trust.”
The West Virginia Land Trust will host an open house for the community at the Randolph County Arts Center on March 23 from 5:00-8:00 PM. “We’re inviting people to come and tell their Bickle Knob stories on video, to preserve our shared history and learn more about the project,” said Scottie Wiest of Elkins, who is supporting the initiative. “When you mention Bickle Knob in this town, the stories start to flow!”
The West Virginia Land Trust is a statewide nonprofit organization that protects land for the benefit of West Virginia residents. Public preserves near Charleston, Morgantown, Moorefield, West Union, and Bartow offer recreational and educational opportunities for the public. Projects to protect drinking water sources upstream of public water systems are underway in the eastern panhandle and Greenbrier Valley. Conservation easements to protect agricultural and forest resources on private land exist in 10 counties. More information is available at www.wvlandtrust.org.
The Land Trust also has a web address for those who want to help. To donate to the effort, go to buybickle.org.