DAVIS – The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced last Monday it has decided not to acquire the Canaan Valley Institute building and associated land in Davis.
According to Ron Hollis, refuge manager at Canaan Valley National Wildlife Refuge, the service was considering accepting a donation of the building from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) for use as a new headquarters and visitor center for Canaan Valley National Wildlife Refuge and as a national center of excellence in outdoor youth education. That center was envisioned as a hub not only for the Service and CVI, but also for partners such as the National Youth Science Foundation, the Student Conservation Association and other groups whose mission is to get youth outdoors.
Last Monday’s press release said the service’s decision not to acquire the state-of-the-art, LEED-certified green CVI building was made after considering public comments. Those comments came through a public meeting hosted by the Tucker County Commission in Davis in December. The Commission received public comments, and recently compiled those and forwarded them to decision makers regarding the donation of CVI.
Tucker County Commissioner Diane Hinkle said previously she read each of the public comments, and said they lend unwavering support for keeping the Visitors Center at its present location in Canaan Valley. She said many questioned the benefit of moving Canaan Valley National Wildlife Refuge to the CVI property.
The National Youth Science Foundation had expressed their desire to purchase the CVI property in November for the purpose of developing a STEM Education Center (Science, technology, engineering and math.) NYSF Executive Director Andrew Blackwood said the announcement Monday was great news.
“We hope that people have the opportunity to carry out the vision we have shared with the greater Tucker County community,” Blackwood said. “We want to carry out our vision of STEM education in the area.”
Blackwood said he is not sure what the next step in the process will be.
“We are expecting CVI and NOAA will have a conversation about how they want to move forward,” Blackwood said. “We have talked to CVI and US Fish and Wildlife’s decision not to proceed happened Monday, and it will take some time for both CVI and NOAA to have a better sense of how they are required to move forward.”
“We want to express how excited we are at the prospect of having this opportunity,” Blackwood said. “We understand there is considerable work that is going to have to happen to see it through. We’re excited to get started.”
Blackwood said NYSF is very pleased with the warm welcome that they have received from Davis and Tucker County.
Tucker County Commissioner Patrick Darlington said he was very excited with the news from CVI.
“I think this opens a great opportunity for Tucker County and the state of West Virginia,” Darlington said. “The National Youth Science Foundation is interested in STEM education and that opens up the doors for that. Nothing is a definite, but we know that will advance opportunities in the county.”
Hinkle said she appreciates the fact that U.S. Fish and Wildlife respected the community input in the matter.
Senator Joe Manchin applauded the U.S. Fish and Wildlife’s decision not to take control of the CVI property in a press release last week.
“I applaud the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services for deciding to pass on the opportunity to use the Canaan Valley Institute facility for a new visitor’s center,” Senator Manchin said. “I am confident that plans are moving towards a potential agreement between the National Youth Science Foundation and the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration for the transfer of the CVI facility to the National Youth Science Foundation. This new center would be a national hub for STEM education, which is critical in making sure our students learn the necessary math, science and technology skills to compete in a globalized world. This would be an extremely wonderful opportunity to expand education opportunities for students in Tucker County, across the Mountain State and around the country. Many of our nation’s brightest students, teachers and researchers would be coming to West Virginia, which is great for our economy, our education programs, and our next generation of skilled professionals. I applaud the efforts of the local residents, the Tucker County Commission, and all those who continue to work tirelessly to bring this state-of-the-art STEM education center to Tucker County.”
The refuge, which attracts more than 30,000 visitors annually, can continue to use its existing headquarters and visitor center. However, the building ultimately needs to be replaced to meet Department of the Interior standards. The building, a former restaurant that was built in 1975 and remodeled in 2003, is in need of approximately $1 million in repairs.
Canaan Valley National Wildlife Refuge is one of 72 refuges in the Northeast and one of 562 refuges in the nation. It consists of nearly 17,000 acres in the Allegheny Mountains. The valley’s high elevation and location combine to create a cool, moist climate more typical in Maine and Canada. The refuge is home to 580 species of plants and 288 species of animals, including many rare species that abound in the high elevation wetlands. More information is on the refuge’s homepage http://www.fws.gov/refuge/canaan_valley and on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/canaanvalleynwr.