Coalition pushes for new National Scenic Area

A scenic area proposal from the Friends of Shenandoah Mountain received a big boost from last week’s revised plan from the National Forest Service concerning the George Washington National Forest.

Outside of the major announcement concerning fracking, the plan also included a recommendation to designate 67,000 acres of the forest as a National Scenic Area.

That recommendation is based on a proposal from the Friends of Shenandoah Mountain – a local coalition between the Virginia Wildlife Committee and advocates for mountain biking – calling for a 90,000-acre area of the Shenandoah Mountain region to be designated as a scenic area.

That region in question, according the website for Friends of Shenandoah Mountain, includes the area of the forest between U.S. Route 250 and U.S. Route 33.

National Scenic Areas are, according to the Friends of Shenandoah Mountain’s website, essentially established by Congress to “protect the scenic, cultural, historic, recreational and natural resources in specific areas.”

Another National Scenic Area in the state of Virginia is the Mountain Pleasant area located near Lynchburg. This is an area of land that is, by law, protected from industrial development such as hydraulic fracking.

“We want to preserve an area that is really special and stands out for its natural characteristics,” said Lynn Cameron, co-chair of Friends of Shenandoah Mountain and vice president of the Virginia Wilderness Committee.

Cameron said in a phone interview on Tuesday that the next step towards achieving this designation is getting legislation passed through Congress.

A recommendation in the George Washington National Forest’s management plan was a big step toward that, said Thomas Jenkins, co-chair of Friends of Shenandoah Mountain and owner of Shenandoah Bicycle Company.

“It means a lot when you have an agency pass a large management plan like this … and include a proposal like this,” Jenkins said.

Jenkins added, “[The National Forest Service] knew we had been working on [this proposal] for years and years … we wanted to approach them with a solid proposal.”

The proposal, according to both Cameron and Jenkins, had been in the works for the better part of the last decade. “These weren’t just lines drawn on a map … these were well thought-out plans,” Jenkins said.

Cameron said the coalition submitted its proposal to the National Forest Service as a joint comment between the Friends and the many organizations, groups and businesses backing it.

According to a news release issue by Friends on Tuesday, the proposal has been endorsed by more than 220 organizations in the states of Maryland, Virginia and West Virginia.

The coalition’s website includes an extensive list of restaurants, businesses, environmental and conservation agencies and organizations that have pledged support for this proposal.

Jenkins noted that, early on, garnering support was a process of going to people they knew that could help. As they received endorsements, Jenkins added, it became easier to add different types of businesses and groups.

Jenkins said the support of these organizations helped lead to the recommendation by the National Forest Service.

Jenkins admitted that a lot of the organizations that have pledged support do not typically work together on issues involving land and environmental conversation.

In fact, as both Cameron and Jenkins said, the road to this recommendation actually began with two opposing advocacy groups.

According to Cameron, the Virginia Wildlife Committee and mountain biking groups are two groups that “do not typically get along.”

However, both Cameron and Jenkins echoed the notion that preserving this area of the state was an issue that both sides deeply cared about. Jenkins said both sides had to compromise for the proposal.

“I think it speaks loudly … that both parties were willing to give certain things up for the greater good,” Jenkins said.

This compromise is what, according to Jenkins, led to the involvement of so many stakeholders, groups and businesses.

And although the National Forest Service altered the original proposal by Friends in recommendation, Jenkins said they are still excited about this development.

Cameron said a national scenic area designation will work towards benefiting aspects like headwaters that provide clean drinking water and local businesses that profit from tourists visiting the area.

Cameron stressed the importance of keeping the mountain streams around the Shenandoah Mountain clean.

“Drinking water is always going to be one of the most important areas to protect,” Cameron said.

Cameron added that this proposal would also help preserve one of the largest un-fragmented areas as well as one of the high points of the elevation in the state.

Jenkins stressed that this would area would still be open to hikers, hunters and tourists of all kinds if it becomes a National Scenic Area.

In fact, as Jenkins noted, this proposal would add 20 acres of land to Ramsey’s Draft to “appropriate non-motorized” vehicles such as mountain bikes and game carts.

“It would be a win-win for [everyone involved],” said Cameron.

At the same time, both Jenkins and Cameron admitted that it could be years before the Shenandoah Mountain receives the designation of National Scenic Area.

“Getting the legislation passed is going to require a lot of political will as well as a well-written bill,” Jenkins said.

Jenkins said this would require getting local politicians such as U.S. Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.) on board.

“We are not sure what that would take,” Jenkins said.

Despite the long road ahead, Jenkins noted that the possible end result is simple.

“Hopefully what people see out there [in the valley] is still intact and used as it currently is,” Jenkins said.

Contact staff writer Kevin Green at 540-465-5137 ext. 155, or