Protecting the state’s wild places

Millions of Americans who love the outdoors are accustomed to using the national parks as portals to nature. Government officials who closed the parks during the “shutdown” know that. They plan to score big political points by denying us access to our parks.

Silly politicians. You just don’t get it, do you?

Uncle Sam has control over many aspects of our lives. But at least for now, the bureaucrats can’t keep us from hiking in the woods, canoeing streams and lakes, climbing rocky peaks and simply looking at the splendor of God’s handiwork.

Take a look at the story and pictures to the right. It’s a feature on the Nature Conservancy, which is celebrating its 50th anniversary of working in West Virginia.

Some of the most beautiful, naturally significant places in the Mountain State are controlled not by the federal government, but by the Nature Conservancy.

Smoke Hole Canyon, near Petersburg, is one of the most beautiful places in West Virginia. A large section of it, along with adjacent North Fork Mountain, is protected by the Conservancy.

How much fun is the place? A few years ago, in company with Rodney Bartgis, the Conservancy’s state director, and other folks from the organization, I visited the canyon. It’s tough to imagine a more inviting spot to canoe or kayak.

One could fill up a decent-sized memory card taking pictures there. Everywhere you look, there’s something beautiful to enjoy.

And the unusual is plentiful. On the way in, on a true Jeep trail, we stopped at the top of one mountain – where I found native cacti.

At the top of another ridge, Bartgis told me of some globally rare plants found in the preserve. “Where?” I asked. “You’re standing on some of them,” he replied, adding that I wasn’t damaging them.

More than 120 rare plants and animals can be found in and near the Smoke Hole and North Mountain. Wow.

For half a century, the Conservancy has been safeguarding precious wild places in the Mountain State. About 120,000 acres are under the organization’s stewardship.

Worldwide – and the Conservancy operates throughout the globe – more than 119 million acres are being protected.

Now, for my favorite part of the Conservancy’s story: The organization undoubtedly is the most significant protector of wild places, plants and animals in the world. How do they do it?

Not through the confrontational strategies so many so-called “environmentalists” favor. Instead of accusing people and companies of assaulting important natural treasures, Conservancy people treat them as fellow conservationists. Many are just that, as concerned as anyone about protecting nature. So often, they agree to help the Conservancy in its mission.

Again, 119 million acres protected in dozens of countries is an excellent argument in favor of the Conservancy.

Happy birthday, West Virginia Nature Conservancy! Thanks for the memories – and for ensuring some truly wonderful places aren’t just memories.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Mike Myer is executive editor of The Intelligencer and the Wheeling News-Register. He can be reached via e-mail at