Much to the delight of Friends of Shenandoah Mountain, the new George Washington National Forest management plan makes a solid recommendation for a 90,000-acre Shenandoah Mountain National Scenic Area. This official recommendation is a huge step forward toward permanent protection of the largest, most unfragmented tract of national forest land east of the Mississippi.
The Forest Service recommendation is the first step needed for Congress to enact legislation authorizing the National Scenic Area, a process that may take years and involves citizen and local government input.
The proposed Shenandoah Mountain National Scenic Area is known for its outstanding scenic beauty, wildlife habitat, pure water resources, and supreme recreational opportunities, such as fishing, hunting, hiking, camping, scenic driving, mountain biking and horseback riding.
The new George Washington National Forest Plan, released last week, also recommends an expansion of the Ramsey’s Draft Wilderness to the north and east and a new 9,500-acre Little River Wilderness in the center of the National Scenic Area.
“We are generally pleased with the new George Washington National Forest plan,” said Friends of Shenandoah Mountain Co-Chair Lynn Cameron. “However, we would have liked also to see Skidmore Fork recommended as a future Wilderness Area within the proposed National Scenic Area, so we will continue to push for Wilderness designation for it.””
The Shenandoah Mountain National Scenic Area proposal came out of a collaborative effort by Wilderness advocates, mountain bike leaders and others and has been a decade in the making.
The proposal has been endorsed by over 220 area businesses and organizations and by diverse George Washington National Forest stakeholders, including the Virginia Forestry Association, Ruffed Grouse Society, The Nature Conservancy, and National Wild turkey Federation.
The proposed Shenandoah Mountain National Scenic Area lies at the heart of the George Washington National Forest, which is the closest national forest to population centers of the mid-Atlantic region.
“The Shenandoah Mountain area offers some of the best outdoor recreation opportunities and wildest backcountry in the east. This proposal will protect both,” said Thomas Jenkins, Friends of Shenandoah Mountain Co-Chair and Shenandoah Bicycle Company co-owner.
With headwaters of both the Potomac and James Rivers, the proposed Shenandoah Mountain National Scenic Area supplies pure drinking water to Staunton, Harrisonburg, and many other towns and cities downstream as far as Washington, D.C. It is also known for its dark skies, making vantage points like Reddish Knob some of the best remaining places to view the Milky Way.
While the proposed Shenandoah Mountain National Scenic Area already offers an extensive network of trails, it also allows for the construction of new trails that would enhance hiking and mountain biking for users of all levels.
The Shenandoah Mountain National Scenic area also calls for a boundary adjustment to the western edge of the current Ramsey’s Draft Wilderness to open access to the Shenandoah Mountain Trail for mountain bikers and game carts. The change would make a more manageable boundary and add 20 acres of Wilderness.
Scenic Area designation would permanently protect the Shenandoah Mountain area from commercial energy development and other activities that could mar its natural character and degrade its supreme recreational opportunities.
The designation would potentially serve as a tourism draw that could help the local economy. Shenandoah Valley Travel Association (SVTA) President Sergei Troubetzkoy said, “SVTA supports this designation and firmly believes that it has the potential to draw more tourists to the Valley.“
Friends of Shenandoah Mountain will continue to work toward preservation of one of the crown jewels of our National Forest for the use and enjoyment of future generations.