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The Planet

October 1997, Volume 4, number 8

Black Days for Blackwater

Blackwater Canyon Falls and the view from one of the canyon promontories are icons in West Virginia. But they, as well as the two endangered species that reside there -- the Cheat Mountain salamander and the Virginia northern flying squirrel -- are in danger because Allegheny Wood Products of Petersburg, W. Va., recently purchased a five-square-mile tract of the canyon.

The corporation has immediate plans to log a 400- to 500-acre tract on the south side of the canyon, an area adjacent to Blackwater Falls State Park and Monongahela National Forest, and plans to log another 3,000-acre tract in the future. The company will use selective-cut rather than clearcut methods, and has also promised to follow the state's voluntary "best management practices." Environmental groups and outdoors enthusiasts, however, fear that the company's logging plans, the first such cut in this area of forest, could damage Blackwater Falls, one of the state's most popular tourist attractions.

The canyon is a wealth of resources. Thousands of kayakers and canoeists are drawn annually to the Blackwater River, which drops 1,350 feet in 10 miles, creating nearly eight solid miles of rapids. The 12-mile Blackwater Canyon Rail Trail forms a premier recreational corridor for bikers, hikers, hunters and anglers, and is a critical component of a tourism industry that contributes an annual $40 million in revenues in Tucker County alone. It is also habitat for several extremely rare species and home to an extensive historic complex of transportation and industrial remains that are eligible for the National Register of Historic Places.

"You can't say that there will be no harm done just because the view from Blackwater Falls won't be affected," said Jim Sconyers, Sierra Club West Virginia Chapter chair, who has followed the controversy since Allegheny Wood Products paid $5 million for the canyonland in February.

"Recreational users of the canyon don't just stay at the overlook; they are up and down the canyon. It's a pipe dream to believe skid roads, noise and truck traffic won't have an impact. People don't flock to a pristine area like the Blackwater Canyon to hear chainsaws, and the recently restored Blackwater River is at risk from sediment caused by logging and road development.

"The Blackwater Canyon needs to be protected. It provides so many invaluable resources, the kind that are disappearing from the United States," Sconyers said.

To take action: Tell the supervisor of Monongahela National Forest you want him to purchase the canyon for the forest.
Write: Chuck Myers, Supervisor, Monongahela National Forest; 200 Sycamore St., Elkins, WV 26241; or call (304) 636-1800. For more information: Contact Jim Sconyers, Sierra Club West Virginia Chapter, Rt. 2 Box 84, Terra Alta, WV 26764; (304) 789-6277;

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