Report Says State Park in Danger

Blackwater Falls Rated One of Most Threatened Parks

By Karin Fischer

(This article appeared in the Charleston Daily Mail on August 25, 2000)

Blackwater Falls State Park is among the most threatened state parks in the country, according to a report released today by the National Park Trust, a national conservation organization.

And West Virginia ranks No. 5 on the list of the 10 states with the most severely threatened parks, the report says. About 1,690 acres are threatened in the state.

"Itís eye-opening," said National Park Trust spokeswoman Susan Hawley.

The report, released on the 84th anniversary of the national park system, identifies the most severely threatened state parks, based on questionnaires filled out by the states themselves. The questions sought information like state park acreage, the amount of privately owned acres in the state park system and the threats to state parks.

The Tucker County park, which includes some of the most photographed wild spaces in the state, is threatened by development, Hawley said.

While Gov. Cecil Underwood signed a legal agreement earlier this month to block the construction of a road through Blackwater Canyon, environmentalists are concerned the park is still threatened by a proposal by Allegheny Wood Products chief John Crites to build condominiums near the canyon. Logging on private land near the park also continues.

"It's nothing new for West Virginia," Hawley said. "Itís an ongoing battle."

Hawley praised a deal proposed by Underwood to transfer some of Allegheny Wood Productsí land to the park -- some would be donated and some purchased by the state -- but said there needs to be a guarantee the nearby land wonít turn into a development.

One solution could be to bring the land under public ownership, Hawley said. Local preservation groups, particularly the West Virginia Highlands Conservancy, have advocated making the area a national park, an idea supported by the stateís congressional delegation. Members of the conservancy werenít immediately available this morning.

West Virginiaís high ranking "isn't a bad thing," Hawley said. Instead, it might help often-underfunded parksí agencies, such as the Division of Natural Resources in West Virginia, by drawing attention to their problems and challenges.

"Our main focus is to bring attention to the needs of state parks," Hawley said.

The Division of Natural Resourcesí Doug Baker has not seen the report, but says his agency is concerned about preserving areas like Blackwater Falls. He praised the governorís proposal as "a positive step."

"It's one of the more pristine areas in the state," Baker said. "Whenever anything is that beautiful, you want to protect it."

At a news conference here this morning, Hawley praised the state parks directors for the candor and willingness to discuss their concerns. The list reflects information received from the directors themselves, she said.

The National Park Trust lists sprawl and underfunding as the biggest threats to state parks across the country.

"It used to be that people would go and visit state parks for the day," Hawley said. "Now they're moving in."

The nonprofit group urges concerned citizens to support the following solutions: bond referenda to buy up land for preservation, buffer zones of private agricultural, forest or visual land around parks, beautification funds for public lands and public access and mandate public agencies to protect parks.

The 379 national parks and 3,266 state parks need to be "finished" by identifying key properties around the park and purchasing them from willing sellers, said Park Trust Director Paul Pritchard. "The key is to finish the dream," he said.

Other states on the 10 most threatened list are Georgia, North Carolina, Minnesota, Nevada, Colorado, Florida, Indiana, Ohio and Montana.