Published 2/1/15 in the Wheeling Intelligencer/Wheeling News Register.
By Gill & Mary Willis
I was pleased to read The Intelligencer's recent editorial on promoting West Virginia as a destination worth visiting (12/29 "Promote W.Va. to Boost Tourism"). I agree that we should play to our strengths and seize every opportunity to put Almost Heaven on the map.
As a business owner in Pocahontas County, I know how critical public lands and outdoor recreation are to our state's economy. The Monongahela National Forest represents some of the best of "Wild and Wonderful," making our tourism product as strong as it is today.
In recent years, a coalition of West Virginians of all backgrounds - Republicans, Democrats, businesses, elected officials, sportsmen and economic development organizations - has teamed up to create the Birthplace of Rivers National Monument on a special part of the Monongahela.
National monument status honors public lands with unique natural, scenic, historic and cultural resources. It's a signal of quality that would validate our position as the playground of the East. That we're even being considered says something positive about West Virginia, but being the only state in the East with a monument on national forest lands would be a feather in our tourism cap. Other states could only dream of such distinction, but there's no doubt our dense forests, pristine headwaters and rich outdoor heritage merit the recognition national monument status provides.
Birthplace of Rivers National Monument would preserve an area with iconic features such as Cranberry Glades, Falls of Hills Creek, Cranberry Wilderness and the Highland Scenic Highway, in addition to headwaters of six cherished rivers. Access for fishing, hunting and all other existing recreational uses would be protected, ensuring West Virginia's outdoor traditions will always be enjoyed by future generations.
Predicted to boost visitation to the area by as much as 42 percent, the designation is one way to improve our tourism economy at a time when we could use a boost. As we mark the one-year anniversary of a chemical spill that tarnished our state's image and greatly affected the tourism industry, we're reminded of the importance of promoting the high-quality outdoor resources we have in our mountains. Monument designation would more permanently protect the Birthplace of Rivers area from unpredictable changes and widespread development, which is key to ensuring it will always be a driver for the tourism economy.
If we want to promote West Virginia on a national scale, let's start by crafting a national monument designation that preserves our outdoor resources, honors existing uses and grows our tourism economy.
Gil & Mary Willis
Elk River Inn and Restaurant