W.V.A Land to Remain Wild and Wonderful

DAVIS, W.Va. – Nearly 5 square miles of land in and adjacent to the Canaan Valley National Natural Landmark area of West Virginia will be preserved for future use by the public, through a sale completed this week.

Ranging from a 3-mile waterfront along the Blackwater River near Davis to high mountain territory including a 3,853-foot peak overlooking both the town and Canaan Valley, the tract includes 3,070 acres. It begins northeast of Davis and extends northeast, touching the Canaan Valley National Wildlife Refuge. A primary access to the property is by Camp 70 road, leading out of Davis and paralleling the river.

The land was transferred this week to the state Division of Natural Resources by its former owner, the Canaan Valley Institute. Much of the acreage, even that at higher elevations, includes valuable wetlands areas such as those already protected in wildlife refuge.

According to the DNR, the actual sale, at a price of $2 million, involved about 700 acres of the total. The remaining land is to be transferred to the state agency by the CVI once the transaction is finalized. All told, the acquisition worked out to a cost of about $651 per acre.

An innovative, still relatively new state program funded nearly half the purchase price. It is the state’s Outdoor Heritage Conservation Fund, created about four years ago. The fund’s revenue comes from a $1 fee on each document formally recorded at county courthouses. DNR funding was used for the remainder of the cost.

Also participating in the arrangement was The Nature Conservancy, which has protected thousands of acres of valuable natural areas throughout West Virginia, and much more worldwide. Rodney Bartgis, the conservancy’s state director and a member of the Conservation Fund board, said the conservancy’s participation was made possible by $50,000 from the Topping Family Fund.

Jennifer Newland, executive director of the CVI, said her organization decided to transfer ownership of the land in order to ensure it could be managed properly and kept available for public use by the DNR. In addition, the CVI will be given continued access to the property for its programs and research. The non-profit institute conducts educational programs and helps identify and solve water quality and access issues, including those facing some communities.

Another education organization, the National Youth Science Foundation, will benefit from conservation of the tract. About 111 acres obtained by the foundation for a new youth science camp is located adjacent to the Blackwater River and will be surrounded by the property newly acquired by the DNR. The foundation will be able to use the land for its programs.

Much of the land involved serves “as an economic engine” for the surrounding community, Newland noted. She explained anglers, often from outside the area, frequently visit the area to fish in the Blackwater River. Other outdoors recreation enthusiasts, ranging from mountain bikers to hunters, also use the land and contribute to the local economy.

DNR Director Frank Jezioro said his agency was eager to complete the transaction because the area in question “is quite a place – unique in this part of the country.” He said the DNR’s primary reason for acquiring the land was “to keep it open to the public … to create more public land for the generations coming.” The DNR will manage the property as a state wildlife management area.

Outdoor Heritage Conservation Fund Vice President David Warner added the transaction was precisely the type of opportunity for which the program was established.

“It’s the whole idea of the rural heritage we’ve enjoyed in West Virginia and finding ways to protect that,” he commented.