LEWISBURG - Several organizations are working to establish a national monument in the Monongahela National Forest aimed at preserving about 123,000 acres.
The proposed Birthplace of Rivers National Monument in and around the Cranberry Wilderness would include the headwaters of the Cranberry, Williams, Cherry, Greenbrier, Gauley and Elk rivers.
Groups working on the initiative include the West Virginia Wilderness Coalition, the West Virginia Rivers Coalition and the West Virginia Council of Trout Unlimited.
"The Gauley River is one of the premiere whitewater rivers in the entire United States and it finds its birthplace in this special area. So we want to make sure that's forever available for people," Kathleen Tyner, the rivers coalition's advocacy and conservation program manager, told West Virginia Public Broadcasting.
If Congress approves the designation, the proposed national monument would be the only large-scale wild lands monument on the East Coast, said Mike Costello, executive director of the wilderness coalition.
"National monuments are special designations that aim to preserve special resources that exist on federal public lands," Costello said. "These can be historic resources; they can be cultural resources; they can be scientific, ecologically significant resources and in this particular area we have all of them. This is the epitome of what a national monument should be."
Benefits of the designation would include environmental protection and an economic stimulus in areas that need diversification, he said.
"In the future we don't know exactly what the threats are going to be to those areas," Costello said, "and as long as federal public lands are managed temporarily under administrative guidelines, which is how this landscape is managed outside the Cranberry Wilderness Area, they're subject to future administrative changes. Fifty years or 100 years from now we can't predict what those changes are going to be so the people of West Virginia really have no guarantee that places such as the Cranberry Backcountry or the Tea Creek Backcountry are always going to be this special."
The U.S. Forest Service would continue to manage the land.
"In these streams where you go and fish for these things, it's like a transcending thing because you kind of step back in time and you're fishing in an area where it looks just like it may have looked when the first white man came from Europe. That's one of the reasons why sportsmen get so excited about things like brook trout, because of that historical perspective. We can't really put a value on that," said Philip Smith, chairman of the West Virginia Council of Trout Unlimited.