A bill to designate the Appalachian Forest National Heritage Area was introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives on February 3. HR 693 was introduced by Congressman David McKinley (WV-1) with co-sponsorship from Congressmen Evan Jenkins (WV-3), Alex Mooney (WV-2) and John Delaney (MD-6). The area is made up of 18 counties in the Appalachian highlands that reach into all three West Virginia districts and western Maryland.
Designation as a National Heritage Area will bring recognition of the national significance of the area, marketing and technical assistance from the National Park Service, and potential matching funds for Heritage Area local projects. There are currently 49 National Heritage Areas across the country, each designated by Congress as places where natural, cultural and historic resources combine to form a cohesive, nationally important landscape. National Heritage Areas provide a grassroots, community-driven approach to heritage conservation and economic development.
“West Virginia’s abundant natural resources include its scenic landscapes, forests, touring areas, historic sites, and fishing and hunting spaces,” said Congressman McKinley. “The Heritage Area designation will recognize these unique places while ensuring the local community has control and safe and productive use can continue. This legislation addresses the concerns of many in West Virginia and throughout the region and we will continue to build support for it.”
Appalachian Forest Heritage Area has been working for more than twelve years to recognize, improve, and promote the forest heritage of the highlands of West Virginia and western Maryland. “Our accomplishments include wide-ranging partnerships, conservation improvements, heritage tourism development, and interpretation about our forest heritage,” said Phyllis Baxter, Executive Director. “We are thrilled that our Congressmen sponsored this bill to bring national recognition of our forest heritage and more opportunities for our communities.”
Recent projects of the Appalachian Forest Heritage Area include the Appalachian Forest Discovery Center in the Darden Mill in Elkins, featuring forest heritage displays and information about sites to visit around the region. Conservation projects have included tree plantings and efforts to control non-native invasive species. The AFHA AmeriCorps program places AmeriCorps members at sub-sponsor sites to provide direct service to improve communities and the environment. Appalachian Forest Heritage Area works only with willing partners and welcomes participation from individual, organization, and business members.