MONROE COUNTY, W.Va. — What ultimately happens with close to 500 acres in Monroe County, located south of White Sulphur Springs near Gap Mills, is now up to those with the West Virginia Land Trust.
Earlier this month, the deed for the property was transferred from the Nature Conservancy, the organization that was originally bequeathed the property in a handwritten will as part of a larger estate.
“This was donated by a woman who had lived in Louisiana for many decades, but it was family land and she wanted that legacy to be protected,” said Dr. Brent Bailey, WVLT executive director.
The land is located outside of the focus area for the Nature Conservancy.
That was the reason for the ownership transfer to the West Virginia Land Trust for the property which has a forest of mature oak and white pine along with a number of other features, including an old carriage trail.
“We were just surprised,” Bailey said. “It’s not often that somebody calls up and says, ‘Would you like to have 500 acres?'”
The West Virginia Land Trust is a statewide nonprofit organization dedicated to protecting natural places.
Coming up next, “We take a good, hard look at the property and try to evaluate what’s the best way to manage it,” Bailey said.
“I have a staff that works statewide — foresters and a forest ecologist and wildlife experts and long-term conservationists — and we all get together and we consider the location of the property, what are its natural resources and how can it serve some public benefit.”
Future uses could be educational, recreational or both.
“Our main goal will be to protect it as a nature preserve and make that nature preserve available for public use if it seems that there’s a strong public interest,” Bailey said.
Local input will be sought.
The evaluation process may take much of 2020.
The West Virginia Land Trust is currently overseeing similar projects in other parts of the Mountain State.
“There is an appetite for protecting the land among West Virginians,” Bailey said.
“West Virginians love the land and, when they see a way to protect a family legacy or a heritage by finding an organization that can conserve it in their name, we’re really happy to do that.”