LOGAN, W.Va. — The rugged terrain of southern West Virginia can be a double edged sword for hunters. The steep hillsides make for tremendous wildlife habitat. The terrain gives deer, bear, turkeys and now elk a place to roam in a fairly unmolested atmosphere. But on the other side the steep terrain can make access difficult for a hunter. West Virginia Division of Natural Director Steven McDaniel wants to improve the access.

“We’ve got to focus on getting better access for our hunters on public lands,” McDaniel told MetroNews. “In Logan County you’ve got really steep terrain and it’s our job to get as good access as we can into these sites.”

Part of the access which McDaniel wants to pursue involves limited ATV and UTV use on a small section of the Tomblin Wildlife Management Area.

“I want to state emphatically and up front, nobody at DNR is interested in opening up Wildlife Management Areas to ATVS. We are totally opposed to that,” said McDaniel. “All we are doing is considering a half-mile access road in one section in Logan County to allow them to get to the top of the mountain.”

The idea was first brought to the director’s attention in a discussion with the Big Game Hunters Association of West Virginia. The Logan County based organization touted the idea as a way to help older hunters with limited mobility reach distant areas within the sprawling 40,000 acre area.

“We have built a parking area in the one area we’re talking about, but it’s another quarter or half mile to the top (of the ridge),” McDaniel explained. “It’s too steep to take a truck all the way to the top, but you can go right up with a four wheeler or UTV with no problem.. All we’re proposing or looking to do is give hunters the ability to take an ATV or UTV to the top to a gated parking area.”

Once on top, hunters would be required to park their machine in a designated parking area and walk into the woods. McDaniel said there would be strict user requirements and those parked would need to get a permit from the DNR District Office. The ridge top stretches for 11 miles. McDaniel further stressed it’s not about allowing unfettered access on the machines to the entire Wildlife Management Area. Part of the plan would be to install surveillance cameras along the ridge to monitor any unauthorized riding.

“In no way are we proposing letting ATV’s run through the WMA,” he explained. “It’s just a way to get to the designated parking area.”

The aging population of West Virginia’s hunting public, ailments like black lung, and other obstacles are what McDaniel hopes to address with the proposal.

“We have a lot of beautiful Wildlife Management Areas where we’re spending millions of dollars to create great hunting. But in a lot of cases, you can’t get to them,” he said.

Not surprisingly there is resistance and concern to the idea. The Tomblin WMA was created with the expressed purpose of establishing an elk reintroduction zone for West Virginia. Some groups who are heavily invested in the effort to reintroduce elk are understandably concerned about what the change might mean to the program. The stretch of unimproved and narrow road up the mountainside, according to McDaniel, is five miles away from the area where elk were introduced two years ago.

“It’s not close to it., it’s miles away. Will the elk get over there? Yes, at some point they probably will,” he explained. “But again, we’re only talking about a half mile of road to get to the top of the mountain. We are NOT talking driving ATV’s all over the mountain and chasing elk.”

There have been no final decisions on the proposal for the Tomblin WMA, but McDaniel wants more input from all stakeholders. He added he’s interested in exploring ways to provide West Virginia hunters more access to other public hunting lands all across the state.

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