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.