Charleston, W. Va. (May 13, 2014) – In recognition of Small Business Week (May 12-16), more than 100 small business from across West Virginia have shown their support for an effort to create the Birthplace of Rivers National Monument, in a unique area of the Monongahela National Forest. The national monument, which would be managed by the U.S. Forest Service, would honor West Virginia’s spectacular scenery, iconic rivers and rich cultural heritage on a national scale.
“Business owners always want to show how proud they are of their products, so if we’re in the business of selling a quality outdoor experience, we can’t pass up the opportunity to put ourselves on the map,” according to Merrick Tracy, owner of Hill and Holler Bicycle Works in Lewisburg. “No other place in the eastern United States has a national monument like this, so that alone should make visitors want to visit the Birthplace of Rivers.”
West Virginia’s woods, waters and scenic beauty already contribute to a strong outdoor tourism economy, which would benefit from additional recognition of national monument status. Throughout the state, natural resource based recreation currently supports $7.6 billion and 82,000 jobs, according to the Outdoor Industry Association. “Following the water crisis of early 2014, many small businesses expressed concerned about the image of “Wild and Wonderful” and how visitation for outdoor recreation might be affected,” said Angie Rosser, executive director of the West Virginia Rivers Coalition. “Birthplace of Rivers sends a message that we value our rivers and streams.”
As the name implies, the proposed Birthplace of Rivers National Monument would preserve the headwaters and tributaries of six rivers, including the Gauley, Greenbrier and Elk. It would also ensure continued access for the diverse range of recreational activities – including hunting, fishing, camping, mountain biking and hiking – which visitors and local residents have always enjoyed in the area.
As a result of bringing national attention to the area, a national monument designation could generate an estimated 42% increase in visitation-related spending. According to an independent economic report, the Birthplace of Rivers National Monument would increase visitation by 50,000 people and could bring a total of $5.2 million in economic activity to the region annually.
In addition to job growth and land conservation, the national monument designation would give West Virginians and visitors an opportunity to highlight and discover what this landscape has contributed to our shared culture, from fiddle tunes and literary works, to the time-honored traditions of hunting and fishing.
“After 30 years in Pocahontas County’s tourism industry, I can’t overstate how much our economy relies on visitation to our unique outdoors destinations,” said Mary Willis, owner of Elk River Inn and Restaurant in Pocahontas County. “People want to experience spectacular places, clean rivers and an authentic cultural heritage, the kind of resources a national monument is designed to celebrate. Birthplace of Rivers National Monument will be good for my business, and it will help create jobs and maintain a steady local tourism industry year-round.”
A national monument designation is a special status bestowed upon federal lands that allows for site-specific management plans to be developed with local input. The Birthplace of Rivers National Monument proposal has been specifically designed to fit the access and management needs of the Monongahela National Forest. The designation would continue current management practices while protecting current recreational activities and land use traditions.
“People come here and support our economies because of what we have in these mountains, so it’s up to us to make sure people know we’re still wild and we’re still wonderful, just like we always were,” said Bobby Bower, owner of PRO River Outfitters, a fishing guide service based in Fayette County. “A national monument has great potential to do just that. If there ever was a monument to the very best of West Virginia, this would be it.”
For information, see birthplaceofrivers.org.