By Cory Chase, Program Director, West Virginia Highlands Conservancy
The West Virginia Highlands Conservancy, in partnership with the Allegheny-Blue Ridge Alliance’s (ABRA), has just released a new project page about the harmful effects of Off-Road Vehicles (ORVs, aka Off-Highway Vehicles/OHVs) on our public lands. It is one of many projects on the Conservation Hub. The new project page contains detailed information on the negative effects to soil, plants, water, air, animals, etc., and also has a statewide interactive map that shows trails on public lands, sensitive habitats, slip potential on different soil types, and stream crossings. The page also lists laws and state and Federal agencies that can and should be involved in determining the efficacy of these proposals. Please peruse this resource and share with anybody who would benefit from this information. The battle over our public lands is a perennial issue. We hope that this Conservation Hub project remains a useful resource and we intend to update it as time goes on.
This year in the WV Legislature, we have seen proposals that lay the groundwork for a statewide overlanding program on our public lands (both state parks and state forests). Overlanding typically refers to travel via vehicle to remote locations, usually for camping, often considered “car camping.” All of these overlanding proposals link back to Senator Mark Maynard, who is actually a director of the Blue Ribbon Coalition, a national overlanding group which has the website www.ShareTrails.org. They–rather deceptively–claim to be a group of “outdoor enthusiasts” who work to keep trails open…but if you take a minute to look deeper, they are merely focused on keeping trails open for motorized use. The Blue Ribbon Coalition’s Executive Director, Ben Burr, testified at the Senate Natural Resources committee in favor of SB562. During his polished speech, he did not mention ORV’s/ATVs once. (See the Natural Resources Committee livestream here, testimony starts approx. 1:24:00) This bill would scrap the WVDNR’s current Adopt-A-Trail program and replace it with a new program that gives more power solely to the DNR Director and takes power away from state park superintendents. On face value, some may see the bill as harmless, but the threatening language includes words like trail “enhancements” and “accessibility projects.” This is arguably the foundation for converting former hiking and biking trails to overlanding trails. Senate Bills 563, 564, 565, 566, and 579 are also in concert with Maynard’s overlanding program.
On the House side of the Capitol Rotunda, HB 4408 aims to swing the door wide open for all state parks and state forests to become more privatized and extends the lease terms to up to 50 years! This bill could also incentivize private investment for things like casinos, mountain roller coasters, fast food establishments, and ATV trails on our public lands. The bill is vague enough that there aren’t many safeguards in place and, as of this writing on a cold and blustery Friday afternoon, it just passed the 2nd reading on the House Floor and moved onto the 3rd reading. There is a good fact sheet and an action alert HERE from our partners at WV Rivers Coalition. Please contact your legislators about these bills and tell them to protect our state parks and state forests.