Appalachian Forest exhibit coming to Darden Mill

The Appalachian Forest Heritage Area is gearing up for a big weekend, opening the “Discovering the Appalachian Forest” exhibit at the Darden Mill on the corner of Railroad Avenue and First Street in Elkins.

The event will begin today from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. and continue Saturday, running from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. This will be the first time the historic Darden Mill has been able to reopen its doors to the public.

A grand opening for Darden Mill itself will hopefully be held next spring, Spinner O’Flaherty, a representative of C-HOPE, said this week.

“Discovering the Appalachian Forest exhibit introduces the stories of the forest and how people interact with it,” said exhibit designer Molly Swailes, an AFHA AmeriCorps member. “Exhibit visitors can get a taste of the forest’s natural splendors, its historic significance, its place in industry, and its influence on local lives and hearts.”

The exhibit uses both historic and modern photos and explores four main theme topics – natural forest, forestry, forest history and Appalachian culture. It has been developed by volunteers and funded in part by a grant from the West Virginia Humanities Council.

On Saturday at 4 p.m., the event will culminate with “Tucker’s Big Bash.” This event celebrates a brand new West Virginia children’s book, “The Pests that Girdle the Home of Tucker the Turtle.”

This book has been a collaborative project of AFHA and the Potomac Highlands Cooperative Weed and Pest Management Area. It tells the story of a native turtle who has had his home impacted by non-native invasive species.

The book will be available for purchase, and the evening will include a book reading. Also, the celebration will consist of an art auction for the 16 original watercolors, hands-on activities for children, snacks and live music.

AFHA is a non-profit organization whose primary goal is to work locally to help conserve, develop, interpret and promote a network of forest-based resources and experiences in West Virginia and Maryland, in 18 counties in the central Appalachian highlands. Their hope is to use these areas for residents and tourists alike to use for education and enjoyment.

The AFHA is currently included in a Senate bill, introduced by Sen. Jay Rockefeller, that would designate the region as a National Heritage Area.

The West Virginia National Heritage Area Act of 2013 is co-sponsored by senators Joe Manchin, Barbara Mikulski and Ben Cardin. National Heritage Areas are designated by Congress as places where natural, cultural, and historic resources combine to form a cohesive, nationally important landscape.

“West Virginia is one of the most beautiful states in our nation and we must preserve our many natural wonders for the next generation of West Virginians and for the visitors from all over the world who visit our great state each year,” Manchin said.

This bill, if passed, would give the AFHA federal designation, park service assistance and funding. People who wish to learn more about the AFHA are urged to attend the open house of the new exhibit.