John McCoy is the Charleston (W.Va.) Gazette’s award-winning outdoors writer. His "Woods & Waters" page appears weekly in the Sports section of the Sunday Gazette-Mail.
In 32 years of outdoors writing, John has had articles published in Field & Stream, Outdoor Life, Bowhunter, North American Whitetail, Hatches and other publications. His works have earned more than 50 state, regional and national awards for writing and photography.
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For this week’s Gazette-Mail column, I went to Judy Rodd, the principal source for the push to create a national park and preserve in West Virginia’s northeastern highlands. Judy was able to answer some of the existing questions, but not all. Here’s the column.
Last week, when news broke that much of West Virginia’s northern Allegheny Highlands might be considered for national park and preserve status, sportsmen raised a ton of questions:
How big would the park be? Would hunting be outlawed? Would trout stockings be curtailed? Who would manage the fish and wildlife? And what would become of trapping, ramp digging and ginseng hunting?
We have answers now for at least some of those questions. Earlier this week, I spoke with Judy Rodd, a spokeswoman for Friends of High Allegheny National Park and Preserve, who clarified some of the murkier points.
The preserve, as currently envisioned, would be pretty darned big – roughly 750,000 acres.
Rodd said it would start at Cathedral State Park in Preston County and extend southward to Cass in Pocahontas County. Its western boundary would start at Shavers Mountain near Elkins and would extend eastward to include current units of the George Washington National Forest in Hardy and Hampshire counties.
“All the lands that would be included in the preserve would be lands that are current state parks or are part of the Monongahela and George Washington national forests,” Rodd explained. “No private lands would need to be purchased.”
She added that only a portion of the land would be considered a full-fledged national park.
“The main units of the national park portion would include Cathedral, Blackwater Falls and Canaan Valley state parks, and some portion of the Spruce Knob-Seneca Rocks National Recreation Area,” she said.
“The Park Service folks have said units of the park could be spread apart like that. The rest of the land in the Allegheny Highlands – the vast majority of the land under consideration – would be in preserve status, where hunting and fishing would be encouraged.”
Rodd said she wasn’t sure if the Park Service would allow trapping on the preserve. However, a subsequent Internet search of several preserves’ websites showed that trapping is allowed on most of them.
The question of ginseng hunting caught Rodd by surprise; she said she “would have to talk the Park Service about that.” As to ramp digging, she harbored a rather strong opinion: “I dig them too, so naturally I would want [that] to be allowed.”
One of the more ticklish questions surrounding the preserve concept would be whether the state Division of Natural Resources or the National Park Service would have primary control of fishing-related issues.
In the New River Gorge National River, for example, DNR officials manage fisheries as they see fit. One sticking point has arisen, though. Park Service officials several years ago asked that non-native fish – rainbow and brown trout, specifically – not be stocked within the park’s boundaries. Stockings continue to this day.
In the state’s mountain highlands, trout fishing is a big issue. Most of the state’s most popular stocked-trout streams and rivers are in the preserve area, and most of the fish stocked are rainbows and browns. Rodd said she didn’t know whether DNR or Park Service policies would prevail.
“That’s too technical an issue for me,” she said.
Rodd said provisions to address any or all of sportsmen’s concerns could be written into legislation that would establish the park.
“That’s a long way off, though,” she said. “The [upcoming] study is called a reconnaissance study. If it finds that the area is unique enough to be included in the national park system, a resource study would follow. And then there would be a period of time to write the legislation and get it passed. Park and preserve status is still years away.”