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Canaan Valley tract to become wildlife area

 

DAVIS, W.Va. -- A five-square-mile chunk of wilderness at the north end of Canaan Valley will soon become the newest Division of Natural Resources Wildlife Management Area.

The 3,070-acre tract, now owned by the Canaan Valley Institute, includes more than three miles of the Blackwater River, a popular trout stream. It is bordered on the east and south by Canaan Valley National Wildlife Refuge, on the west by W.Va. 32, and lies just south of W.Va. 93 at its northern end. From the nearby town of Davis, state-owned Camp 70 Road follows the Blackwater River through the tract, dead-ending at its border with the refuge.

"We're so glad to get this property -- the clean air, clean water and vastness of this country needs to be conserved," said DNR Director Frank Jezioro, who toured the tract earlier this week. "We have an obligation to see that our kids and their kids have the opportunity to experience our state's wildlife heritage."

The property encompasses terrain ranging from red spruce forest remnants and limestone outcrops at higher elevations to sphagnum bogs, heath barrens and shrub swamps. Its highest point is 3,853-foot Bearden Knob near the southern boundary of the property.

Canaan Valley Institute acquired the property in 2002 from Allegheny Energy, which at one time considered using part of the tract for a pumped-storage hydroelectric facility. A grant from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Agency enabled CVI to buy the land, which is used for a variety of scientific projects, including air, precipitation and mercury deposition monitoring stations, and an upland wetland research station.

Under CVI ownership, the tract remained open to the public for hunting, fishing, hiking, biking and in designated areas, camping. With the help of volunteers, a network of eight hiking and biking trails took shape on the property.

"The property has had long, valued use by local residents and visitors as a place to hike, fish, hunt and bike," said Jennifer Newland, CVI's executive director.

Those activities will remain open to the public under DNR management. A covenant in the sale agreement allows the West Virginia Mountain Bike Association to continue using the CVI trails for a stop on its annual race series. Competitive events and groups larger than 25 are not normally allowed on state wildlife management areas.

The sale of the CVI land will be made in three stages. In July, the DNR will make a second and final payment for a 700-acre section of the property located on the north side of the Blackwater. When that payment is made, the CVI will transfer the remaining 2,370 acres on the south side of the Blackwater to the DNR as a gift.

Purchase price for the 700-acre tract is $2 million, half of which will come from DNR conservation stamp funds produced through a $1 fee paid by purchasers of state hunting and fishing licenses.

The other half will come from the Outdoor Heritage Conservation Fund, which receives its income from a fee on real estate deed recordings. Assistance with the CVI purchase marks the first major property acquisition by the Fund, created by the Legislature in 2008.

"The idea behind the Outdoor Heritage Conservation Fund is to protect our rural heritage and our iconic places," said David Warner of Shanks, the Fund's vice president. "Here, we're able to do not only that, but also to link together protected lands like Blackwater Falls State Park and Canaan Valley National Wildlife Refuge, and improve public accessibility."

The Nature Conservancy bought an option on the property to hold it until the $2 million could be raised, and then contributed $50,000 toward the purchase price through a grant from the Topping Family Fund.

Newland said the sale allows CVI to better "focus our attention on serving small rural communities throughout the region and solving their water problems. We wanted to keep the land open for public use, and for education and research, and that will continue under the DNR. The DNR is also better able to maintain and manage the property on a long-term basis."

All things considered, "We got the best possible deal we could have gotten," Newland said.

CVI will keep a 36-acre tract immediately adjacent to its headquarters building off W.Va. 93. The National Youth Science Camp Foundation retains a 111-acre tract across the Blackwater from the CVI campus, where the organization plans to build a new National Youth Science Camp facility.

Nearly all the land in the CVI tract lies outside the planned expansion boundaries for Canaan Valley National Wildlife Refuge.

Jezioro said CVI's trail system would remain open to the public, although there will be seasonal closures of some trails for safety reasons during firearms seasons. Whether camping will continue to be allowed in designated sites along the Blackwater will be the topic of a review.

"There's a lot we can do to enhance this land for wildlife, such as restoring early successional habitat" that includes seed-producing brush and grasses and small trees, such as aspen, he said.

As a wildlife management area, the tract is likely to attract grouse, woodcock, deer and bear hunters, as well as trout anglers.

"Our state needs public land you can take your gun and your dogs to, and spend the day hunting without having to seek permission from someone," Jezioro said. "This place helps us live up to our 'Mountaineers always free' motto."

To date, no name has been selected for the wildlife management area.

Reach Rick Steelhammer at rsteelhammer@wvgazette.com or 304-348-5169.

 


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