WVLT and Vandalia enter into option agreement for “Yellow Creek Preserve” until June 2019

Reppin’ the colors atop the Moon(rocks).  Photo Courtesy of Kent Mason.

West Virginia Land Trust (WVLT) and Vandalia Heritage Foundation are engaged in an option agreement or contract for the 860 acre tract that includes Moon and Hoodoo Rocks.  This agreement gives WVLT the right to purchase the property, which the land trust is calling the Yellow Creek Preserve, at an agreed upon price and future transaction date.

“We are in the throes of fundraising right now to come up with the funds to purchase that property,” WVLT Program Manager Ashton Berdine said. Berdine stated the land trust is relying on grant funding requests and individual contributions to raise the funds.

“We were able to have a conversation with Vandalia Heritage Foundation, and we came to an agreement on a price,” he said.  Without stating specific numbers, Berdine stated Vandalia was “very gracious” with the agreed price.  “They are doing the community a favor with their sale price,” he said.

According to Vandalia Heritage Foundation President and CEO Laura Kurtz Kuhns, Vandalia acquired 1,129 acres in December 2004 from the West Virginia Power and Transmission Company for $2,258,000.  Federal grant funds were used for the purchase.

“We know that WVLT is the best entity to preserve and conserve the land,” Kuhns said.  “We have resisted other offers that we feel are inconsistent with the ultimate goal of preserving this unique property and making it accessible.  Further, WVLT’s acquisition of the land will enable Vandalia to sensitively develop the remaining, smaller portion of the property bordering Corridor H/Rt. 93, and to reinvest the proceeds into our ongoing local efforts of revitalization and economic development,” she continued.

The option agreement is valid until June 2019.  “We are safe, the property is safe through June.  That’s the timeline,” Berdine said.

Regarding the placement of the tract in relation to its adjoining federally and state owned neighbors, Berdine said.  “It’s an important piece of the puzzle for the whole Canaan Valley area, and it’s a piece that was essentially unprotected.”

WVLT’s strategical management of land sometimes includes turning over property to local, state, or federal entities.  With so many different land managers surrounding the Yellow Creek Preserve, it might seem like this option would fit into the land trust’s goal for the property.

Berdine expressed an ownership transition is not a goal for this property.  “We have every aspiration to keep it as our own,” he said.

As stated in their fundraising campaign, the priorities for Yellow Creek Preserve are public recreation access and conservation.  As stated, the property includes Moon Rocks, a well-known and popular destination for hikers and mountain bikers.

“As property managers, we will have to evaluate what other public uses will be allowed, but we are all about providing public recreational access,” Berdine said.

Berdine praised Heart of the Highlands’ trail work in the area and stressed that although the trail building organization will not be acquisition partners, they will be partners in management if they choose to be involved.  “We want to stay involved with the people who care, like Heart of the Highlands,” he said.

“As far as new trails, that’s an unknown right now.  But if there’s a need and a place for new trails, I don’t see why that can’t happen.  It’s a large tract.  If we can use this property to connect to trails that are already developed, that would be great too,” Berdine said.

Conservation of the tract is another goal of the WVLT.  Yellow Creek runs above Davis and flows into the Blackwater River.  Gary Berti, Trout Unlimited eastern home rivers initiative director, said, “There are streams on that property that run year round.  It’s part of a complex up here, and the Blackwater River is part of the complex.”

“I’d love to see the Blackwater River be what it could be,” Berti said.  “Upper Tucker County is an amazing area.  The more we can protect it, the better off we are.”

Berdine complimented Vandalia’s management of the area.  “I think they have done as best as they can essentially as a landowner with few resources for land management.  They have provided it to the public, as far as I can see, with few, if any, strings attached, which has really raised the profile.  Everybody loves Hoodoo Rocks and Moon Rocks,” he said.

“We have owned the land for nearly 15 years now and have studied it, planned it, and placed a large portion of the land in the managed timberland program, etc.,” Kuhns said.  “Although we are not required to do so, we have allowed public access, including hiking, mountain biking and hunting. In fact, we worked with Canaan Valley Institute to establish a trail system for public use; at the time, we didn’t realize just how popular the land would become in certain circles, especially the mountain biking community. ”

WVLT is a statewide nonprofit group with more than 9,000 acres of holdings.  “We protect special places.  That’s the very short and sweet of it,” Berdine said.  Berdine described WVLT’s portfolio of special places as broad and diverse.

“Conservation, recreational access, historical sites, working farms and forests, riverfronts; our mission is broader,” he said.  “We cover the whole gamut.”

One such special place recently added to that portfolio is 123 acres located right below the Bickle Knob tower.  The land trust purchased this parcel in conjunction with the Forest Service.

The land trust just secured a 200 acre parcel in Oak Hill, which will eventually be donated to the town as a boulder park.  The prospective Yellow Creek Preserve purchase would be WVLT’s largest.

Vandalia previously sold parcels contained within the prospective Yellow Creek Preserve.  Kuhns mentioned Vandalia’s operating costs in maintaining the land and real estate taxes. ” We have had to sell outparcels in order to cover these costs,” she said.

“At this point, our big struggle is winning the hearts and minds, and getting people to contribute,” Berdine said. To contribute to the land trust’s fundraising efforts, visit BuyTheMoonWV.org.