The Old Family Farm
March 3, 2022
Many West Virginians grew up on the old family farm – the place they worked, hunted, and played in the creek… the place they love. This love never leaves our blood… but sometimes life takes us far away from the old homeplace. One such place is Ed and Bettye DeBerry’s 110-acre farm in Marion County. A lot of good living and family memories happened here but now it is mostly just a quiet home for wildlife… which is exactly part of the legacy that the DeBerrys wanted to share with future generations. The family wanted the public to be able to enjoy their property and WVLT is pleased that the DeBerrys donated their farm and put their faith in our organization to ensure those wishes.
Located only 30 minutes from downtown Fairmont, the DeBerry Farm is a quiet and secluded landscape that is mostly wooded, but still has evidence of fields that once pastured cows and supported a garden. The trees on the hillsides surround the old homestead and guardian the farm from above. Old roads and trails traverse the forest and hold potential to be developed into hiking and biking trails. The farm borders the 600-acre Curtisville Lake Park and Campground, adding to a larger protected landscape—a benefit for wildlife and recreationists alike.
While it is WVLT’s obligation to preserve the natural features of the landscape, we also want to provide additional public benefits. There are lots of possibilities and we are considering ways to reinvent this old family farm—a place for new or veteran farmers, for parkland, trail development, outdoor education, and more. Until then, the farm is in good hands… err… hooves, claws, and paws… as the deer, birds, and opossums stand guard.
The West Virginia Land Trust (WVLT) owns the Yellow Creek Natural Area (YCNA) in Tucker County. Major support from The Center for Active WV facilitated the development of new kiosks, welcoming folks on their next adventure! We partnered with Blackwater Bicycle Association on an information kiosk at the Camp 70 Trails, which lead to YCNA. We also partnered with property neighbors at the National Youth Science Center and the West Virginia Division of Natural Resources to create new kiosks also directing you towards YCNA.
Special thanks to Mike Blackburn from Natural By Design, Lauren Lamb from Skull House Group, and Rolling, Tank & Fabrication who collaborated with WVLT on the design of the kiosks.
WVLT purchased the Yellow Creek Natural Area in 2019 with the support of four major grant funders, several local businesses, and 228 individuals from 19 states. The 860-acre property is home of the infamous “Moon Rocks” and contains 4+ miles of trails to Moon Rocks, HooDoo Rocks, and Yellow Creek, also linking to 20+ miles of the Heart of the Highlands Trail System. This property is permanently protected and open for public recreation.
The West Virginia Land Trust (WVLT) is leading the fundraising and land protection efforts to purchase 370 acres in Summers County for the purpose of creating a community forest. The land neighbors the National Park Service Bluestone National Scenic River and surrounds the Cooper’s Mill historic site owned by the Summers County Commission. In 2020, the Summers County community approached the WVLT to partner on the purchase and preservation of the Little Bluestone property.
“The community first impressed me with their passion for conserving the forest setting for the historic Cooper’s Mill. Then I was next surprised over and over by the beauty of the Little Bluestone River and its canyon. But I really fell in love with the idea of pursuing a Community Forest solution for protecting this land when I walked into the forest and found a healthy example of a Central Appalachian Forest teaming with native life,” said Amy Cimarolli, Land Protection Specialist for WVLT.
The USDA Forest Service has committed financial assistance to this community-envisioned project through a 2021 award from its Community Forest Program, the first awarded in West Virginia! This Community Forest Program project will help the WVLT to acquire and conserve the forest around Cooper’s Mill and manage it for community benefits, providing additional public access and recreational opportunities on the Little Bluestone River while also protecting vital water supplies and wildlife habitat.
Supporters of this community forest project include the Summers County Commission, State Senator Woodrum, Representative Miller, Senator Capito, Senator Manchin, National Park Service, Appalachian Trail Conservancy, Summers County Historical Society, City of Hinton, Hinton Area Foundation, Summers County Historic Landmark Commission, and the West Virginia Division of Forestry.
“This project is valuable to the entire region as it not only impacts the city of Hinton, but also Summers County and Mercer County as the project develops. Future trails could tie into the Bluestone Turnpike Trail which will provide access from the Bluestone State Park and Pipestem State Park to the community forest and Cooper’s Mill. The hike is beautiful along the scenic river, making this a great destination for tourists,” said Jack David Woodrum, State Senator and former Summers County Commissioner.
After acquisition of the property, the WVLT will continue to work with the landowners, the Summers County Historical Society, Summers County Commissioners, and other community supporters of the project, on a project development plan to manage the forestland for community benefits such as recreational trails, nature education, and historical interpretation of Cooper’s Mill. This will include working with the National Park Service to initiate review of creating a potential trail connection to the Bluestone Turnpike Trail.
Access to the site for regular public use will be subject to development of access, parking, and trails. Those interested in supporting the campaign may donate at www.wvlandtrust.org/donate and designate your gift to the Little Bluestone Community Forest project.
WVLT is a statewide nonprofit organization dedicated to protecting West Virginia’s special places forever. Since 1994, the organization has protected nearly 20,000 acres of land, creating outdoor recreation opportunities, safeguarding our drinking water supplies, protecting scenic views, preserving historic sites and family farms, and much more.
In honor of Earth Day, the Mon Valley Green Space Coalition (MVGSC) and the West Virginia Land Trust (WVLT) will host a “Touch the Earth Festival” from 1 to 4 p.m. on April 17 at the pavilion in Marilla Park. The event is free and open to the public.
Other organizations, including Friends of Deckers Creek, the Mon River Trails Conservancy, Recycle Right Morgantown, the Mon chapter of the Sierra Club, and members of Morgantown’s Green Team, will also participate in the event.
The Festival will include educational activities by members of participating organizations, including guided tours of Marilla Park’s new trail, a tree-planting party, and a scavenger hunt in which participants will learn to identify trees and plants. Attendees will have the opportunity to learn everything from how to build a sustainable hiking-and-biking trail to how to spot and avoid poison ivy. Trees on the trail route will have signage with information about their ecological and financial benefits, particularly as they relate to easing the adverse effects of climate change.
Guided tours of the new trail will be given at 1:30 and 3:30 P.M., and the tree-planting will occur at 2:30 P.M. Throughout the festival, information on recycling, the rail-trails, the WVLT’s Toms Run Preserve, and the proposed Morgantown southern greenbelt will be available.
“From an ecological perspective, it’s crucial to preserve and protect green spaces,” said JoNell Strough, a WVU professor of psychology and the chair of the MVGSC. “Their positive impact on air and water quality can’t be overstated. Green spaces are also essential to the overall physical and mental health of a community. They provide recreational opportunities as well as peaceful, restorative retreats from our hectic day-to-day lives.”
One of the aims of the Touch the Earth Festival is to highlight the possibility of a greenbelt around the city, which would enable residents to move around town without resorting to motorized transportation. Representatives from the MVGSC and the WVLT have been in active talks with the city to establish more connector trails, such as the new one in Marilla Park, to link neighborhoods to city parks and the rail trail.
“Morgantown is one of three West Virginia cities that have been chosen for a remote worker program that will highlight outdoor activities,” said Rick Landenberger, a WVU geography professor, MVGSC board member, and the science and land management specialist for the WVLT. “With a greenbelt, our community would be even more attractive to people and businesses that want to make Morgantown their home.”
Sponsors of the Touch the Earth Festival recommend that guests who wish to participate in tree- planting activities wear long pants, long-sleeved shirts, and gloves (so as to avoid contact with poison ivy) and bring shovels, if they have them. (Some shovels and other tools will be available for public use.) In keeping with the state’s Covid guidelines, festival organizers and participants will wear masks and maintain appropriate social distances.
The festival will occur rain or shine.
For more information on the festival and to learn more about the WVLT, visit www.wvlandtrust.org. More information about MVGSC can be found at www.monvalleygreenspace.org. You can also find both organizations on Facebook at @wvlandtrust and @greenspacecoalition.
The West Virginia Land Trust, in partnership with the Mon Valley Green Space Coalition, BOPARC, and the City of Morgantown, are pleased to announce the creation of Morgantown’s newest public trail – the Marilla Park Connector. The trail is just over 0.5 miles in length and greatly improves access to Marilla Park from the South Hills neighborhood. As a critical link in a larger connector trail system that will connect Greenmont to Marilla and the Deckers Creek Rail-Trail, the trail has been “a labor of hard work and love” according to Dr. Rick Landenberger, WVLT Science and Land Management Specialist who designed the trail and led the volunteer groups.
Dr. Brent Bailey, West Virginia Land Trust Executive Director and local trail advocate points out that “Local trails are one of the most popular community features that people look for when deciding where to live. The West Virginia Land Trust supports their development, and not just on its own properties. This connector works on so many levels: for recreation, for education, for alternative transportation. Morgantown is lucky to have the properties and the people that make this possible.”
The idea to better connect the southern neighborhoods of Morgantown to the Parks and Rail-Trails started two decades ago when Greg Good, then President of the Mon Valley Green Space Coalition, and Landenberger, then a Ph.D. student in the WVU Forest Resources Science program, began scouting the area for possible routes from the local neighborhoods to schools and parks. Recently, Landenberger picked the project back up, forming a partnership with the Mon Valley Green Space Coalition, BOPARC, and the City of Morgantown
According to Assistant City Manager Emily Muzzarelli “We’ve been continually working to expand our trail network and enhance outdoor recreation in the City. Now, more than ever, we see just how important these resources are to the community. It has been fantastic to see the efforts from volunteers and citizens to complete this project in Marilla Park.”
Landenberger began working in summer 2016 with young volunteers from the BOPARC YETI (Youth Engagement Through Involvement) Summer Camp program. Other volunteer groups include the Charlie’s Angels Hash House Harriers and WVU iServe students.
“Success in many areas is largely dependent upon partnerships such as the one represented by this project. This trail is a wonderful addition to our City park system and we are excited to share it with the community”, said BOPARC’s Director Melissa Burch.
“Cooperation among the partners facilitated the timely completion of this trail project,” commented Dr. JoNell Strough, current chair of the Mon Valley Green Space Coalition. “By working together, we built a trail that not only serves community needs for transportation and recreation, but also provides a space for people to put their cares aside as they take in the beauty of the forest.”
For more information, contact WVLT Land Management and Science Specialist Rick Landenberger at firstname.lastname@example.org.
“We call this land OMG Acres. OMG stands for ‘Ouellette, Mueller, Glasson’ – the last names of the three co-owners – and it also stands for ‘Oh My Gawd’ for the sanctuary it offers from society’s craziness that too often carries us away from what is truly important and meaningful. This land is beautiful and peaceful in all seasons. Our goal is to protect, preserve and expand this land and its wildlife. As these beautiful lands and wildlife become more threatened by encroaching development, subdivisions and mining, this land should continue to evolve as a place supporting healthy ecosystems, forest land, biodiversity, and wildlife habitat while also allowing sustainable farming when needed now and into the future,” said Mark Mueller, one of the owners of OMG Acres.
Together, three landowners – Mark Mueller, Avery Ouellette and Dan Glasson – approached the West Virginia Land Trust (WVLT) early this year in hopes to protect their farm in perpetuity. With a conservation easement, the WVLT can do just that. This property is now the second conservation easement held by the WVLT in Pendleton County.
OMG Acres is comprised of 330 acres along the South Fork River (which flows into the South Branch of the Potomac), with a mosaic of open fields and woodlands. It includes three historical structures – an old farmhouse, log cabin, and church – which the landowners are in the process of renovating and hope to preserve. In addition to these structures, the easement protects ½ mile of river frontage and defined buffer areas along streams. The property is the most upstream of three other WVLT-conserved sites along the river. This project also protects biodiversity including wood turtles, Virginia big-eared bat, and a sandstone “pavement” pine habitat.
(Church restoration project. Photo above is the “before” and photo below is the “after!”)
The farm has been their refuge during the pandemic. “We feel immensely grateful to have access to this beautiful property that allows us to continue enjoying our outdoor passions while isolating from others,” shared Avery Ouellette and Dan Glasson. “Watching the daily rhythms of nature and spending time each day working on projects to preserve the unique features on this property have given us a much-needed respite.”
Working on the conservation easement during this time period also allowed Mark, Avery, and Dan to look beyond the daily challenges of COVID-19 and think about their future legacy. This was particularly important given that Mark was diagnosed with cancer in the Spring. “We can’t thank Amy Cimarolli and WVLT enough for their thoughtfulness and dedication in helping us realize our shared conservation goals. We are also so grateful for the support of Severn Bank and their willingness to work with us in putting this conservation easement in place on our property. We are thrilled that the land will be conserved long after us.”
When asked about Severn Bank’s involvement with conservation projects, President and CEO Alan Hyatt stated, “Since Severn Bank is headquartered with all of its operations in a fragile environment, we realize what is at stake with the health of the Chesapeake Bay, the water ways, connecting lands, our environment, and the many surrounding states that are affected by its health. We feel we have a responsibility to do our part to preserve our natural resources, and we take this responsibility very seriously. This includes Severn’s Westgate Circle headquarters with a state-of-the-art “green roof” that captures and absorbs runoff water that would typically challenge our infrastructures and pollute our waterways. We also show our support with frequent donations to many environmentally oriented organizations, backing people and organizations who share our love of the land and water, and protecting properties for future generations.”
The purpose of conservation easements is to protect forests, scenic beauty, wildlife habitats, and working farms in perpetuity by placing permanent restrictions on the property. All of these values are protected at OMG Acres. In addition, the landowners committed to keeping trees growing along the banks of the South Fork to support clean water in the Potomac River, which benefits neighbors downstream.
Conservation easements are specifically tailored to meet the needs of each landowner; few conservation easements look alike because few properties are the same, and few landowners want exactly the same provisions. WVLT specifically tailors its conservation easements to meet the goals of the landowners and maintains a life-long authority and obligation to enforce the terms of the easement in perpetuity. Landowners still own their property and may use, sell, or leave it to heirs, but the restrictions of the easement stay with the land forever.
Steve Callen currently owns Cliff Canyon and had a desire to keep this place wild, undeveloped, and protected forever. He convened three of West Virginia’s conservation organizations and asked for help and advice in achieving his goal. The West Virginia Land Trust, The Nature Conservancy, and the Potomac Conservancy joined forces to bring this vision to completion. The property remains privately owned, but its conservation features are permanently protected by a conservation easement.
Located about 20 miles south of Moorefield, near Milam, in Pendleton County, Cliff Canyon is mostly comprised of limestone. The limestone geology forms rich soils and, combined with very steep slopes and its location in the “rain shadow” of the Appalachian Plateau, a very dry and harsh environment is created where only specific plants and animals are best adapted to survive. River enthusiasts and kayakers may know this site by its other name, Moorefield Gorge, challenging its Class 2 and 3 whitewater in the spring of the year.
“The Nature Conservancy, West Virginia Land Trust and Potomac Conservancy share a vision of protecting West Virginia’s important and special places. Together, we are working to provide a backdrop that makes people want to live, recreate and enjoy the natural wonders of our great state,” said Mike Powell, TNC Director of Lands. He went on to say, “TNC is happy to work on another project with the WVLT where both conservation and West Virginia win by protecting habitats of rare and unique species in an important landscape for nature-based recreation and tourism.”
“I believe that we are all called upon to be good stewards of all life. While there are many environmental threats, it seems clear that the single greatest threat to nearly all life except man is the lack of suitable habitat. I consider it a great privilege to be able to participate in the permanent protection of a unique and relatively undisturbed habitat that supports a large suite of terrestrial and riparian species. The legal protections provided by the easement combined with the onsite physical barriers give me confidence that, at least in this unique canyon, life as intended can continue toward perpetuity,” said Steve Callen, owner of the property.
Biologists and kayakers have known about the property, but the hillsides are so steep that most people rarely venture into this rugged canyon on the South Fork River in Pendleton County. Biologists were eager to see the canyon protected because of the many globally rare plant communities, such as the Southern Appalachian Northern White Cedar Woodland (less than five known occurrences worldwide), and the habitat to many other rare species associated with this dry forest type. The federally threatened Virginia big-eared bat is also known to reside in this remote place, adding to the critical need to keep this location protected. In total, 18 rare species and plant communities occur here, largely due to the limestone geology.
“Cliff Canyon is one of the most exciting places I’ve seen in the Appalachian region, and to find it nestled just out of sight on a common country road is remarkable. I’m thrilled to see this team come together to permanently protect such an extraordinary property,” said Emily Warner, Senior Director of Land Conservation at Potomac Conservancy.
This Cliff Canyon property also secures over three miles of river habitat, protecting water quality, aquatic species, and riparian habitat. West Virginia’s headwater streams (such as the South Fork River) supply clean drinking water to many people downstream. Conservation partnerships and conservation projects like Cliff Canyon benefit nature and people in so many ways.
The Nature Conservancy, West Virginia Land Trust and Potomac Conservancy each played a key role in securing the financial resources and stewarding the project to completion. The three organizations jointly applied to the West Virginia Outdoor Heritage Conservation Fund (OHCF) for financial assistance to protect the Cliff Canyon site.
In 1985, the West Virginia Legislature created the OHCF to invest in the conservation of unique and important wildlife habitats, natural areas, forest lands, farmlands, and lands for hunting, fishing and recreation. The OHCF receives applications from qualified conservation organizations for projects like Cliff Canyon each year.
“This project encompasses so many good qualities, but what stands out to me is the ruggedness of the land and the solitude one feels in this canyon. It is nice to know it will always stay and feel this way,” says Ashton Berdine, Lands Program Manager for WVLT.
Reunited and it feels so good! After six months of working from home, the West Virginia Land Trust had our first in-person staff meeting. We wore our masks, used hand sanitizer, met outside, and enjoyed lunch over an open fire. This year has been a huge adjustment for us to “shelter in place”… I mean come on… we are outdoor people, what does staying home even mean?!
This is our new normal and we are adjusting. We have worked remotely, held Zoom meetings with folks from all over the country, and met outside in small groups when necessary. Our recent virtual Special Places Celebration allowed us to connect with people from all over the country and they showed up in a big way – donating to help us continue our important work.
Speaking of Special Places… our title sponsor Bailey & Glasser along with the WVLT Board of Directors offered to match all gifts up to $20,000. We are only $5,000 short of our goal! They extended the deadline through this Sunday, Oct. 4. Can you help us out? Make a donation today at www.wvlandtrust.org/donate to support our important work.
Hope to see you outside soon!
WVLT Director of Development & Communications
New West Virginia Land Trust preserve a Mammoth undertaking
By Rick Steelhammer
September 19, 2020
A 5,000-acre expanse of woodland and former surface mines along the Kanawha-Fayette County line east of Mammoth is being repurposed as a public recreation area and a demonstration site for post-mining reforestation and stream restoration by its new owner, the West Virginia Land Trust.
Mountain bike and hiking trails are among recreational amenities initially planned for the property, with the first trails likely to take shape in the un-mined segments that make up about half of the tract, named the Mammoth Preserve.
“It’s not wilderness, but it looks pretty wild,” said Ashton Berdine, lands program director for the West Virginia Land Trust, as he took in a miles-long view of wooded ridges and hilltops from one of the new preserve’s highest ridges. At the bottom of a narrow valley between the steep, tree-cloaked spines, the path of Hughes Fork could be seen twisting its way toward the Gauley River, along with the grassy slopes of re-contoured highwalls and mine benches.
“We will be managing this preserve for wildlife habitat, water protection and recreation access,” Berdine said.
“Mountain biking is only going to grow, and here we have room for maybe 50 or more miles of trail,” Berdine said. Trails for hiking are also planned, and paths for horseback riding and sites for camping will likely be considered, he said.
“The preserve also gets us involved with restoration,” he said. “We’re proud to be a part of the restoration of this land and having the opportunity to make it available to the public for recreation and to benefit the local economy.”
The West Virginia Land Trust was given the land and its management responsibilities by another nonprofit, Appalachian Headwaters. Appalachian Headwaters received the tract to use as a demonstration project for reforestation and stream restoration techniques as part of a settlement agreement in a stream pollution lawsuit against Alpha Natural Resources. The suit was filed by the Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition, West Virginia Highlands Conservancy and the state chapter of the Sierra Club, represented by attorneys from Appalachian Mountain Advocates.
Appalachian Headwaters, based in Lewisburg, was formed four years ago to support reforestation of native hardwood forests and restoration of streams on former surface mines. It is working with scientists at Green Forests Work in Lexington, Kentucky, to plan the mix of trees to be planted on mine lands at the Mammoth Preserve.
“The goal is to return the mined land to the closest possible approximation of the forest that was here before the mining took place,” said Mike Becher of Appalachian Headwaters.
Once the blend of nursery-raised young trees is in the ground and growing on about 2,000 acres of former mine land in the preserve, it will be one of the largest, if not the largest, legacy mining reforestation site in Appalachia, according to scientists at Green Forests Work.
Preparation work for reforestation is already underway on about 300 acres of the preserve, where thickets of non-native autumn olive and Russian olive have been dozed into large piles, where they await burning. The two brushy plants do well in rocky, compacted soil, sometimes reaching heights of 20 feet or more, which is why they have been used extensively in the region to satisfy post-mining ground cover requirements.
The preserve lies adjacent to the remnants of Bullpush Mountain, the nation’s first mountaintop removal mine site, which Cannelton Coal began operating in 1970. Most of the mining that took place on the preserve also occurred decades ago, according to Becher.
“Past mine restoration throughout Appalachia often focused on getting anything to grow on these mine sites,” according to Berdine. The two olive species, both native to Asia, have frequently been planted on reclaimed strip mines, along with black locust, pine and certain hardy grasses and legumes, to help anchor the soil.
Where thickets of autumn and Russian olives have been scraped off old reclamation jobs at the Mammoth Preserve, dozers pulling giant, hydraulic “ripper” spikes tear up compacted soil to accommodate the successful planting of young hardwoods. The ripping is done in a crisscross pattern, at least three feet deep into the hardened soil.
“To get trees to grow in the compacted ground, you have at the Mammoth Preserve and other mine sites that were reclaimed as grasslands in the ’80s, you have to rip up the soil,” said Chris Barton, a professor of forest hydrology and watershed management at the University of Kentucky. “Ripping allows the natural infiltration of water to occur again,” he said. “It gives young trees the water they need for growth, and allows seeds from native plants to germinate.”
Without ripping and reforestation with native tree species, former mine sites like the Mammoth Preserve remain in “a state of arrested succession,” said Barton, who founded the non-profit Green Forests Work to help owners of former surface mines plan reforestation. “Our goal is to speed up the natural process,” he said.
Starting in March or early April, young trees will be planted in the land now being processed for reforestation. “We try to mimic the native forest with a blend of 20 to 30 species of trees and native shrubs found in an oak-hickory forest like the one at the Mammoth Preserve,” Barton said.
The return of a natural hardwood forest canopy above the former mine land will also improve water quality in streams crossing the new preserve.
Leaves in the canopy can absorb large volumes of rainwater while dissipating rainfall before it reaches the soil, Barton said, “and trees are deep-rooted and use a lot of water. That means less runoff and less erosion.”
“There are five or six guys operating heavy equipment here now, and later a dozen or so tree planters will be hired,” said Becher, as he watched a dozer with a ripper bar slowly ascending a small slope. “That’s the start of the sustainable economic activity that we’re wanting to make possible on this site. We want to do good for the environment while creating economic benefits for the community.”
“In the long term, we’ll be working with the local towns and county government to find out what they would like to see happening with the preserve and how we can draw more people to the Upper Kanawha Valley,” said Berdine.
Trail development at the Mammoth Preserve “ties into a local initiative Montgomery and Smithers have for new trails on both sides of the Kanawha,” said Smithers Mayor Anne Cavalier, who visited the preserve with West Virginia Land Trust officials on Monday.
“This would be another place to hike and bike you can reach without having to drive for hours,” she said, and maybe stop in Smithers or Montgomery afterward to get a bite to eat. “The best industry to support new development is the tourism industry.”
The preserve stretches from Hughes Creek, a Kanawha River tributary, in the west to a point within one mile of the Nicholas County line in the east near the town of Dixie. Bells Creek forms much of its northern boundary. All but a 400-acre arm of the preserve that extends into Fayette County in the Mount Olive area lies in Kanawha County.
In addition to the Mammoth Preserve, the West Virginia Land Trust has protected more than 10,000 acres of land in the state, including seven public preserves, since it was created in 1994.
Effort underway to preserve Revolutionary War-era fort site in Greenbrier County
By Rick Steelhammer
Jul 11, 2020
ALDERSON — A crowdfunding campaign is underway to protect the site of one of the strongest in a series of frontier forts built to protect colonial settlers in the Greenbrier Valley from raids by American Indians before and during the Revolutionary War.
The Archaeological Conservancy, the West Virginia Land Trust and the Greenbrier Historical Society are seeking to raise $125,000 — $60,000 of it from the crowdsourcing effort — to buy the fort site and a 25-acre parcel of land surrounding it. The three groups would then work together to create a public historical preserve, with signs, trails and exhibits pointing out the cultural and natural points of interest being protected from development.
The Outdoor Heritage Conservation Fund has committed $25,000 to manage the preserve.
While the location of the fort was known, no written description of it is known to exist, and no trace of the fortification could be seen above the surface of the pasture that covers it. Much of what is known about the structure and the activities that took place inside it was uncovered during a series of excavations conducted in the 1990s by archaeologists Stephen and Kim McBride.
The McBrides, both Greenbrier County natives with doctorates in archaeology, were assisted by students from public schools in Greenbrier County, students from the University of Kentucky, Concord and West Virginia University, and local volunteers.
Arbuckle’s Fort was built in 1774 by a local militia company commanded by Captain Matthew Arbuckle on a knoll overlooking the point where Mill Creek flows into Muddy Creek, about 5 miles north of present-day Alderson. It was one of a series of forts built by militiamen to station troops and protect settlers from attack by native tribes who had caused them to abandon two earlier attempts at settling the area — one in the late 1750s and the other in the early 1760s. A third wave of settlers began arriving in, or returning to, the Greenbrier Valley in 1769.
“For the European settlers who lived here in the 1770s, this was the wild west,” said Gordon Campbell, president of the Greenbrier Historical Society, during a recent visit to the site.
Built on land claimed by John Keeney and family, who first arrived at the site in 1755, Arbuckle’s was one of the first frontier forts in the area to be built as a freestanding, military structure and not a fortified component of a home. In addition to building more substantial forts at sites with topography that enhanced their defense, the militia-built forts of the mid-1770s were spaced closer together than those built in previous decades. By the start of the Revolutionary War, forts in the Greenbrier Valley were sometimes built within 3 miles of each other.
The fort was built near the site of the July 1763 Muddy Creek Massacre, in which a raiding party led by Chief Cornstalk of the Shawnee killed three settlers and kidnapped a woman and three children.
Historic records indicate that Arbuckle’s Fort provided protection for many of the more than 40 families living in the Muddy Creek area at the time of its construction. During the growing season, families spent much of their time at the fort, with one group of male settlers moving from farm to farm, communally planting and harvesting crops, while another group was on alert for Indian attack.
The first military action at the fort took place in August 1774, within weeks of its completion, when Muddy Creek settler William Kelly was attacked by tomahawk-wielding Native American raiders about a half-mile outside the stockade. Sounds of the attack reached militiamen inside the fort, who ran to the scene and retrieved the deeply cut settler, who soon died of his wounds. The next day, American Indian raiders shot at a sentry standing watch at the fort, but missed their mark.
In September 1774, just after the fort was completed, Arbuckle and his troops guided Colonel Andrew Lewis and his force of nearly 1,000 Virginia militiamen to the Kanawha River, which they followed downstream to Point Pleasant.
From there, they planned to attack several native villages in Ohio as payback for raids on Virginia settlers. Instead, they encountered a like-sized force of warriors led by Chief Cornstalk, and the Battle of Point Pleasant ensued, ending in a narrow victory for the militiamen.
The only other record of Arbuckle’s Fort coming under attack took place in September 1777, when native raiders shot at the fort, but caused no casualties. It is believed that the raiding party was the same one that attacked a farmhouse at Lowell, about 20 miles to the north in Summers County, the previous day, killing three settlers and taking one prisoner.
The fort was occupied throughout much of the Revolutionary War, during which the British encouraged native attacks on the Virginia settlers, but 1783 was apparently the final year that the fort was garrisoned by militiamen.
Excavations by the McBrides showed that a diamond-shaped stockade wall of vertical logs enclosed a quarter-acre area containing a blacksmithing site, cooking hearth, blockhouse and powder magazine. Bastions topped with observation decks were built at the north and south ends of the fort.
Artifacts uncovered during the excavations included a pair of dime-sized, eight-sided metal discs, one of which was engraved with an “X,” found in the blacksmith area. Similar discs have been found at a number of slave house sites across the South, and “suggest an African-American presence” at Arbuckle’s Fort, according to Kim McBride. “Tax records show that Matthew Arbuckle owned two slaves” at the time the fort was in use, she said.
A large quantity of assorted animal bones found in the cooking area indicated that meat formed a large portion of fort occupants’ diets. Hogs and cattle accounted for most of the bones, but deer, black bear, raccoon, rabbit, squirrel and groundhog bones were also found. An ethnobotanical study of samples of vegetable material found in the cooking area indicated that corn, fruits, nuts and berries were also consumed there.
A rifle sight, lead balls of various calibers, and gunflints of both domestic and European origin were among the defensive artifacts uncovered.
A small glass document seal that imprints the word “Liberty” was also unearthed, providing a tangible link between the militiamen who occupied the fort and the struggle for independence from Britain that was taking place when the fort was in use.
The seal would probably have been set in a ring or a cufflink, or something that could be worn on a chain or strap around the neck, according to McBride. The artifact “makes a wonderful link,” she said, to a 1776 letter Arbuckle sent to Col. William Fleming, a wounded veteran of the Battle of Point Pleasant, who was serving as a Virginia state senator when the letter was mailed.
“My country shall never have to say I dare not stand the attacks of the Indians,” or flee the cause his countrymen “are so justly fighting for,” Arbuckle wrote. “On the contrary, I will loose the last drop of my blood in defense of my country when fighting for that blessed enjoyment called liberty.”
The excavations at Arbuckle’s Fort also produced numerous artifacts left by the site’s earliest occupants, the region’s native people. Projectile points dating back to the Archaic era — 3,000 to 10,000 years ago — were found at the fort site and in the field surrounding it.
“In this little nook, 10,000 years of history can be found, “said Campbell. “We’re excited to be a part of it.”
The preserve will also encompass the remnants of a dam built to divert water for at least one of two gristmills that operated on Mill Creek. The first was Keeney’s Mill, in operation when the fort was built in 1774. It was replaced by Blaker’s Mill, built in 1794, which continued to operate well into the 20th century. It was moved to WVU’s Jackson’s Mill facility in the 1980s.
“Blaker’s Mill became the center of a small community that sprang up around it,” said Margaret Hambrick, secretary-treasurer of the Greenbrier Historical Society.
According to Hambrick, preliminary plans being considered for the preserve include building a small parking area, where signs will direct visitors where to see, and how to walk to, points of interest on the preserve. A path would follow Mill Creek past the Blaker’s Mill site and then ascend a gentle slope to the fort. Additional signage would be installed along along the trail.
While the preserve is not expected to draw vast crowds, “it adds another place for people to stop and see, and learn about the area’s history,” she said.
The Archaeological Conservancy, a national organization based in New Mexico, owns three other preserves in West Virginia, all them protecting the sites of prehistoric burial mounds. It previously owned another frontier fort site, Fort Evans in Hampshire County, that was later sold at cost to the Town of Capon Bridge.
“Our mission is broad,” said Ashton Berdine, lands program manager for the West Virginia Land Trust, better known for preserving natural areas, farms and forest tracts. “There are many places in West Virginia in need of protection. With Arbuckle’s Fort, we hope to provide public benefits for education and add economic value to the area.”
To donate to the effort to preserve Arbuckle’s Fort, visit https://give.archaeologicalconservancy.org/campaign/arbuckles-fort-archaeological-site/c289358. Each donation of $30 or more entitles the donor to a year’s membership in the Archaeological Conservancy, including a subscription to the quarterly magazine American Archaeology.
Toms Run Preserve is 318 acres located 10 minutes south of Morgantown. The West Virginia Land Trust has spent the last five years working hard to open this preserve to the public for hiking and nature study. We are sincerely thankful to all of our Blue Jean Ball supporters who supported this project! With the help of all of our grant funders, supporters, volunteers, staff and families, we are FINALLY ready to open this to the public! But in light of our current social distancing situation, we have to postpone our grand opening which was scheduled for April 2020. We hope to celebrate with you soon. Stay tuned for details on our celebration!
Signed, Sealed, Delivered… It’s Yours!
Last week, The Nature Conservancy in West Virginia (TNC) signed over the deed to a nearly 500-acre tract of land in Monroe County to West Virginia Land Trust (WVLT) for ownership.
Mike Powell, TNC director of lands, said this about the donation of land, “This property in Monroe County is special on many levels. However, it is outside our focus area and meant to be managed as a nature preserve. Therefore, we turned to our partners at the WVLT as the best stewards to manage this property and ensure the public can access it and enjoy it for years to come. It’s a win-win for us all and will result in a resilient, protected and publicly accessible piece of nature.”
The Nature Conservancy is a global environmental organization whose mission is to conserve the lands and waters on which all life depends. Here in West Virginia, the organization works to protect and restore the sweeping forests and wild rivers, to ensure West Virginia’s resources sustain both people and nature across the region for years to come.
Donated to TNC through an estate gift, the property is an important piece of an identified climate resilient networks of lands that connect the blue ridge to the boreal forests of Canada along the Appalachian Mountains. Conserving special places like this will benefit wildlife as the move to higher elevations, while also filtering air and water for people.
“The property has a forest of beautiful mature oak and white pine. The preserve also has interesting historic features, such as an old carriage trail lined with a massive stone wall, creating a ready-made hiking trail. This main trail is a leisurely hike for visitors and provides a wonderful place for nature lovers, birders and weekend hikers,” said Ashton Berdine, WVLT lands program manager.
West Virginia Land Trust plans to explore how this preserve can serve other community needs, such as recreational opportunities for mountain bike trails, but this would come much later after developing a management plan and working with local partners.
“We’d like to see a network of these kind of preserves all over the state, and we’ll achieve that with the support of people who love West Virginia and from conservation partners like The Nature Conservancy,” said Brent Bailey, WVLT executive director.
The West Virginia Land Trust is a statewide nonprofit dedicated to protecting special places, focusing on projects that protect scenic areas, historic sites, outdoor recreation and drinking water supplies by protecting land that borders rivers and streams.
Property Transferred to the City of Oak Hill
By: Steve Keenan/The Register-Herald
Continuously adapting, expanding and trying new approaches has become the norm for businesses which want to survive in today’s economy.
Municipalities can also be included in that list.
The City of Oak Hill cut the ribbon Tuesday on Needleseye Park, a rock climbing, hiking and mountain biking park on a large tract of land around the Minden area. The West Virginia Land Trust partnered with the city to purchase 283 acres of land from Berwind Land Co. for public recreational use.
West Virginia Tourism Commissioner Chelsea Ruby visited Fayette County for Tuesday’s ribbon-cutting, a fact which Oak Hill City Manager Bill Hannabass called “huge.”
While offering her thanks to the various entities involved in the process, Ruby thanked “most importantly, the community here, because you all have such a strong community when it comes to outdoor recreation, when it comes to tourism.”
When she attends events involving people in the region, Ruby said she knows there are going to be people who are passionate about tourism, growing the tourism economy, and outdoor recreation in the area.
“Day in and day out, you guys are the people who are on the ground.”
Ruby said Gov. Jim Justice’s administration has expanded the duties of the tourism office to include economic development, to look at ways to grow the state’s tourism economy.
“Everyone here knows how important tourism and outdoor recreation is to the state. I don’t have to tell you guys it’s a $4.3 billion industry in West Virginia. I don’t have to tell you that it brings in over $500 million in taxes. And I don’t have to tell you there’s 45,000 tourism jobs in West Virginia.
“Those are the reasons that we are all here today. It’s projects like this; it is growing the economy and adding new things to our list to promote.”
Outdoor recreation is consistently one of the main draws in the state, she said.
“When climbing really started to take off in the ‘80s here, people, of course, started off near the (New River Gorge) bridge,” recalled Gene Kistler, president of the New River Alliance of Climbers. “This place eventually got discovered here in the ’90s.
“We climbed here in the ’90s for maybe a couple of years, then maybe it was the Meadow River that everybody went to. It’s fun to discover things.”
“We knew about this place, and it’s just a brilliant move on the part of the City of Oak Hill to buy this and do this,” Kistler continued. “There’s a short list of cities in the U.S. that have climbing within the city limits, and it’s a prestigious list. And Oak Hill’s part of that now.
“What’s really nice about Needleseye is its exposure for winter climbing and for being here in the winter time. Frankly, summer time in Needleseye Park is kind of brutal. It’s going to be interesting to come up with ways to sort of mitigate that. But I think it’s gonna be primarily sort of a fall, winter, spring (best scenario).”
Kistler says the park offers a variety of options, including bouldering — “People are psyched.”
Brent Bailey, executive director of the West Virginia Land Trust (WVLT), said the fact that the project was locally-generated was a key.
“When we select projects, we’re looking for local buy-in,” Bailey said during a media hike before the ceremony. “This was an easy buy for us.”
According to Bailey, the WVLT seeks to get involved with projects that will provide public benefit such as protecting water supply, providing recreation and preserving history.
After exploring the title on the land and other areas such as mineral issues and boundaries, the WVLT wrote a proposal to move the project along. Needleseye features “beautiful West Virginia woodland and spectacular rock formations,” he said.
Hannabass termed Tuesday “a fantastic day for the City of Oak Hill.” Initiated in March 2016, the Needleseye project “moved at lightning speed,” he said.
Mayor Fred Dickinson and city council threw their support behind the project, and the WVLT and the state’s Outdoor Heritage Conservation Fund came on board, as did other partners.
“You have to have multiple partners. You can’t do this as one entity,” the city manager said.
“I found very quickly that this property speaks for itself,” Hannabass said during the media hike. “It should be public, it should be protected, it should be for the enjoyment for all of us for generations and generations and generations to come, and it is, and that’s why we’re here to cut the ribbon.”
He said the project cost has been around $600,000, with the city and the WVLT contributing some funds, but the bulk of the money coming from the Outdoor Heritage Conservation Fund in the form of a grant to purchase the property from Berwind.
“Outdoor recreation is extremely important to our state,” said Jessica Spatafore, WVLT’s director of development and communications. “In addition to benefiting our current local residents and their health, outdoor rec opportunities strengthen our economy by increasing tourism, attracting new businesses and boosting the housing market.”
With the parking lot and access now available at the north entrance, other future work includes signage and creation of a south entrance, said Hannabass.
“There will be some more amenities to come,” as well as promotion of the park, he said.
To access the north entrance parking lot, turn on Gatewood Road from Main Street Oak Hill, travel 1.6 miles, turn right on Needleseye Road and go 0.5 of a mile to the parking lot.
Original story: https://www.register-herald.com/oak-hill-christens-needleseye-park/article_228dfa8a-7c3b-11e9-a1b7-cf2dc0ad5d19.html?fbclid=IwAR2xj1lHspZtohNpXUFY2Dh77jJo_hojfGXtloeeKMWWf46TSxhxgmFekXk
West Virginia Land Trust Celebrates Earth Day with the Help of Local Volunteers
In celebration of Earth Day, the West Virginia Land Trust (WVLT) welcomed nearly twenty employee volunteers from MedExpress Urgent Care to help build new hiking trails in two WVLT-owned nature preserves.
“Outdoor recreation is extremely important to our community,” said Jessica Spatafore, WLVT director of development and communications. “In addition to benefitting our current local residents and their health, outdoor rec opportunities strengthen our economy by increasing tourism, attracting new businesses, and boosting the housing market.”
MedExpress center volunteers from Morgantown worked in the Toms Run Nature Preserve, which is a 320-acre natural area. The property is a “work in progress” and WVLT is planning to make it open and accessible to the public for hiking and nature study in the fall of 2019.
Volunteers from the Charleston MedExpress center met in the Wallace Hartman Nature Preserve. This 52-acre natural area has established trails and is open to the public. The preserve offers recreational and educational opportunities, habitat protection and scenic enjoyment.
MedExpress employees were able to volunteer with the WVLT through the MedExpress Volunteer Program in which team members can take a certain amount of time off to volunteer in their community with an organization of their choice.
Those interested in visiting either property or volunteering should call WVLT at (304) 413-0945.
(Pictured above: Ted Armbrecht, WVLT Board of Directors; Brent Bailey, WVLT Executive Director; Ashton Berdine, WVLT Lands Program Manager; Larry Harris, WVLT Board of Directors)
Morgantown, WV – Monday, December 10 at the Courtyard by Marriott, Governor Jim Justice announced more than a dozen grants awarded to recipients in Northern West Virginia. These included two Abandoned Mine Land (AML) Grants, six Recycling Assistance Grants, and 11 Recreational Trails Program Grants.
“These grants are essential as we continue to grow West Virginia and provide programs that help our communities and citizens,” Gov. Justice said. “The multiplier effect on our return is at least eight times and many times it is more. As we move our state forward, and we are, the impact to our economy is substantial.”
The winter storm that affected Southern West Virginia prevented the Governor from attending the press conference. Bray Carey, Special Assistant to the Governor, attended on his behalf. Ed Maguire of the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection, which administers the AML program, announced the awards.
The West Virginia Land Trust was awarded a $400,000 AML grant to contribute towards the purchase and restoration of approximately 900 acres in Tucker County that include highly popular recreational trails that have become a regional destination for hiking and mountain biking. Upon purchase, the property will be called Yellow Creek Preserve, named after a tributary of the Blackwater River that flows through the property. The property also includes Moon Rocks, a rock formation that is a popular destination for hikers and mountain bikers.
“This group has already been fundraising and invested some of their own money into this campaign to purchase the property,” said Ed Maguire, Director of the office of the Environmental Advocate for the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection. “That impressed us on the selection committee because this group put a lot of their own skin in the game,” Maguire said.
During the award presentation, Maguire recalled hiking the property and indicated that the property is a cornerstone for the recreation in the Canaan Valley area, which depends on tourism as an important part of its economy.
“This is an important piece of property that draws people to nearby communities and that we intend to make available to the public for recreation,” said Brent Bailey, West Virginia Land Trust Executive Director.
According to the land trust, the property is threatened by development, so they stepped in to see it protected.
“In recent years, parts of the property were being sold parcel by parcel into private ownership and that threatened public access,” Bailey said.
At the award ceremony, Maguire indicated that although the property sits in an area with abandoned mine lands, it still has significant recreational and conservation values. The property borders nearly 20,000 acres of other public lands that include the Canaan Valley National Wildlife Refuge and Little Canaan Wildlife Management Area.
“It not only has tremendous recreation potential, it also includes unique upland and wetland habitats that create the iconic landscapes that draw people to the Canaan Valley area,” Bailey said.
To learn more about the project, visit www.BuyTheMoonWV.org or call (304) 413-0945.