On October 8, 1960 a small group of students and faculty from West Virginia University launched private land conservation in West Virginia. On that day, this unassuming group of conservation heroes worked through The Nature Conservancy, a national group just getting started, to purchase what’s now known as Cranesville Swamp Preserve, near Morgantown, in order to establish an outdoor classroom for nature study. Just three years later, in 1963, the Conservancy established a permanent foothold in the state when the West Virginia Chapter was chartered.
A New Era
That was 50 years ago. Today the Conservancy is the most successful private land trust in the state—one that’s grown to protect some 120,000 acres of the state’s finest natural areas. For decades we’ve been vigilantly strategic in identifying conservation targets—now iconic areas like Panther Knob, Slaty Mountain and Brush Creek—as is evidenced by our establishment of the West Virginia Natural Heritage Program, which catalogues the state’s natural assets. But it’s how we protected some of the state’s most important areas that would have been difficult for our founders to imagine.
Over the years the Conservancy has led innovative approaches:
• Pioneering the use of conservation easements, enabling conservation on private lands.
• Helping to develop the West Virginia Outdoor Heritage Conservation Fund, groundbreaking legislation that invests in the conservation of our natural heritage.
• Working hand-in-hand with public land managers to protect some of the state’s most beloved public recreation areas like the Monongahela National Forest, the New River Gorge and the Ohio River Islands National Wildlife Refuge.
We used to say here at the Conservancy that we “deliver results you can walk around on.” And while the 120,000 acres we’ve helped to protect is testament to that, what’s not captured in that phrase are some of the intangibles: For example, the forests we’ve protected clean our air, cleanse our drinking water and provide the recreational opportunities we all enjoy.
Vision for the Future
We need nature. And right now, nature needs us more than ever.
A lot has changed in the past 50 years. The global population has doubled and is projected to triple to at least 9 billion by 2050. Our growing needs for food, water and energy are driving a rapidly changing climate and straining natural systems. Fortunately, we have an opportunity to apply our conservation expertise here in West Virginia.
Over the next 50 years we’ll:
• Create a landscape where energy is developed sustainably, a place that supports the advancement of practices, tools, and technology that avoid and minimize impacts to our forests and streams.
• Protect, restore and connect public forestland, and support the creation of an economic arena that offers incentives and market rewards for private forestland owners to do the same.
• Make major headway in eradicating harmful pests and diseases from our forests, through on-the-ground action and advocacy efforts.
• Help safeguard nature in the face of climate change, and ensure it continues to provide important economic benefits and ecological services.
We know what to do and how to do it. Now we just need your help.
Cheers to the next 50 years!