Agency aims to preserve land

Submitted photo courtesy of Kent Mason A 123-acre parcel of land located just below the Bickle Knob Observation Tower has been purchased by the West Virginia Land Trust. The nonprofit conservation agency now is seeking support to pay off the loan, with a campaign goal of $100,000.

ELKINS — Leaders with a statewide land conservation agency are reaching out to the local community, seeking financial support to help permanently protect land near Bickle Knob.

Located approximately 10 miles northeast of Elkins in the Monongahela National Forest, the Bickle Knob Observation Tower is a popular location for hikers and visitors. Ashton Berdine, lands program manager of the West Virginia Land Trust, said a 123-acre parcel of land located just below the tower had been owned by Coastal Lumber Co.

When that land went up for auction last summer, Berdine, of Elkins, said he and other Land Trust representatives were worried that a “donut hole” of private land could be developed, which would alter the view and the use of property along Stuart Memorial Drive.

In order to protect that land and viewshed, the nonprofit organization responded quickly to submit a closed bid.

“Knowing how important this property is to the community, we borrowed money to purchase it, and our bid was the winning one,” Berdine said.

Now, the agency is seeking community support to help pay for that loan, with a campaign goal of $100,000.

The West Virginia Land Trust will host an open house for the community at the Randolph County Arts Center this spring.

The event will include a party atmosphere with refreshments, as well as an area where attendees will be encouraged to record their Bickle Knob stories on video, said Jessica Spatafore, director of development and communications for the Land Trust.

“This campaign specifically, we are hoping the community will really pitch in,” Spatafore said, noting the agency began reaching out this fall at the Mountain State Forest Festival and received great feedback.

“People had so many stories to tell about Bickle Knob — engagements, weddings … all kinds of stories,” she said. “Everyone we’ve talked to is really supportive. … It’s really exciting.”

She said the Bickle Knob area is amazing — it offers gorgeous views of the area’s remote mountains, plus access to trailheads into Otter Creek Wilderness Area, along with camping, hiking, fishing and other outdoor recreation opportunities in the forest.

Spatafore encouraged community members to mark their calendars for 5 to 8 p.m. March 23, when the Land Trust will host its open house party in support of Bickle Knob.

Berdine said the West Virginia Land Trust organization focuses on protecting forest lands, parks, recreational access and more.

“It’s the only statewide land conservation organization,” he said. “We focus on preserving working farms and forests, historic sites and especially recreational access — new places for people to hike, bike and fish. … We really like to hang our hat on protecting water sources.”

In addition to Bickle Knob, the Land Trust also has purchased Camp Bartow, a 14-acre Civil War site in Pocahontas County. Berdine said the Land Trust currently is working on plans for interpretive signs, and the area will be open for public trails.

Other locations protected by the Land Trust include public preserves near Charleston, Morgantown, Moorefield and West Union.

Projects to protect drinking water sources upstream of public water systems are underway in the Eastern Panhandle and Greenbrier Valley.

Anyone interested in making a donation or getting additional information can contact The West Virginia Land Trust at 304-413-0945, email jessica@wvlandtrust.org or visit www.buybickle.org.

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