By Dylan Jones
Positivity champion Norman Vincent Peale famously quipped, “Shoot for the moon. Even if you miss, you’ll land among stars.” The West Virginia Land Trust (WVLT) is shooting for the moon, and if everything goes as planned, will be landing among rocks — Moon Rocks.
The WVLT—a statewide nonprofit organization dedicated to protecting special landscapes in West Virginia—is full tilt into its fundraising campaign to purchase 900 acres of undeveloped land just outside the adventure town of Davis in Tucker County. The parcel, which will be called the Yellow Creek Preserve, has historically been a recreation hotspot—most notably for mountain bikers—and includes the famed Moon Rocks formation.
Buy The Moon
On December 10, 2018, the WVLT received a $400,000 abandoned mine land (AML) grant from the state that will go toward its planned purchase and restoration of the landscape contained within the Yellow Creek Preserve. The WVLT has inked an option agreement with the Vandalia Heritage Foundation, the current landowner, that locks in the sale as long as the agreed-upon price is reached by March 1, 2019.
According to Lands Program Manager Asthon Berdine, the WVLT has been watching the parcel for almost a decade, and is extremely excited at the opportunity created by the deal with Vandalia. “The conservation community is kind of small, the land connects people,” Berdine said. “We’ve all been watching this plot of land, which is more or less in the middle of a lot of larger protected landscapes, trying to figure out how we pay for it. Vandalia made a very gracious offer, and I think they deserve some credit for wanting to support the community as well. They’re selling it to us for a bargain sale value.”
The WVLT was also awarded a $250,000 grant in 2018 by the West Virginia Outdoor Heritage Conservation Fund(WVOHCF) to go toward the purchase. With the AML and WVOHCF grants comprising the majority of the confidential purchase price, the WVLT has been charging ahead on the campaign to raise $500,000 from public and private donors to reach its goal.
According to Director of Development & Communications Jessica Spatafore, there’s about $100,000 to go, and she’s confident the WVLT will hit its financial goals. “It’s going well, the social media has blown up,” Spatafore said. “But we have some serious work ahead; it’s not easy to get to a hundred thousand. We have to ask, ‘How do you turn a like into a dollar?’ People are gravitating toward this campaign, which is super exciting.”
Dark Side of the Moon
If Yellow Creek and Moon Rocks ring a bell, it’s because this otherworldly landscape has been a recreation hub for Davisites and visiting mountain bikers for decades. Moon Rocks is best known for the infamous Blackwater 100, the notoriously riotous motocross race widely billed as the ‘toughest race in America’ during its tenure from 1975 – 1993. Following impacts to wetland bogs, a few deaths, and legal worries from the power company that owned the land during those days, the event was banned—much to the chagrin of the motocross community. If simple mention of the Blackwater 100 makes your ears perk up, don’t get too excited—the WVLT has no plans to bring back motorized recreation in the preserve.
Nowadays, the relentless rock gardens along Yellow Creek and technical climbs up and over Moon Rocks are the epitome of Tucker County’s tough-as-nails mountain biking reputation. Most easily accessed from Camp 70 Road just east of Davis, you’re likely to see at least a few bikes enter and exit the Little Canaan WMA trail system on a daily basis. If you’re an Appalachian mountain biker who has yet to test your balance and pick your line through the channeled bedrock, it’s time to plan your pilgrimage to the promised land. “This place is cemented in the culture of Davis, you can go to Hellbenders and get a Hoodoo Voodoo burrito,” Berdine said. “Ninety-percent of the time I run into out-of-state residents who’ve driven to Davis to ride Moon Rocks.”
If you don’t like to hurl yourself down rutted rock on two wheels, don’t worry—the WVLT plans to promote hiking in the Yellow Creek Preserve by developing new trails and shoring up existing paths through the notoriously deep and environmentally sensitive bogs. With its brilliant tannic-stained waters and flora unique to the Potomac Highlands, Yellow Creek itself is bound to become a destination for hikers, kayakers, and birders. The preserve currently contains over three miles of the Moon Rocks-Hoodoo Rock loop trail, and links to over 20 miles of the Heart of the Highlands Trail System.
According to Spatafore, a recreation management plan has already been developed. The WVLT will form an advisory committee that will include stakeholders to inform decisions on recreation-based issues. “Part of [the WVLT] mission is to provide recreation,” Spatafore said. “Nothing is more exciting than when we’re on a potential Land Trust property and we run into people and see them using it; we feel validated. [Moon Rocks] is honestly one of the coolest properties I’ve ever seen; it’s essential to keep it open to the public.”
Berdine was quick to assuage any concerns of a reduction in public access following creation of the preserve. “Just to be as reassuring and forth right, we will keep the open access for the community—especially for the existing trails,” Berdine said. “It wasn’t until I really got engaged with this project in particular that I really understood the value to the community. We think Heart of the Highlands has done a phenomenal job in all aspects. I think we’ve built a friendship and trust; it’s really exciting to know that the community is so wholeheartedly behind it.”
A Major Leap for Conservation
Although the WVLT will manage the Yellow Creek Preserve to include recreation, it’s also focusing on the preserve for its ecological value as part of the largest wetland in the central Appalachians. “The majority of the property is high-conservation value,” Berdine said. “I’ve always had an eye on Canaan Valley because it’s so unique botanically with the wetlands there. It’s our duty to protect what’s left of that, that’s a big issue personally for me as a scientist.”
Berdine said the WVLT has big plans to restore the preserve to its native state via stream restoration and red spruce forest restoration. “A component of the AML grant is to fund a study to look at stream quality and the potential for putting lime sands in the upper [Yellow Creek] head waters to alleviate some of the natural acidity of the water, and maybe we could improve the brook trout fishery,” Berdine said.
The WVLT plans to work with the Central Appalachian Spruce Restoration Initiative (CASRI) to remove non-native species and plant red spruce trees. “There are some surface mined acres on the edge of the property, and I think we’ll have a lot of fun doing red spruce restoration,” Berdine said. “The Land Trust will gladly work with CASRI to do red spruce restoration where applicable; we’ll plant trees along streams and in open areas.”
With the addition of the Yellow Creek Preserve, the WVLT will add a fresh line to an already successful preservation resume. The WVLT has preserved nearly 10,000 acres in West Virginia to date, included recent acquisitions of over 665 acres in the Gauley River Canyon, 14 acres of historic Civil War grounds in Bartow, 125 acres on Bickle Knob, and the 282-acre Needleseye Boulder Park near Oak Hill.
The WVLT and local trailbuilding company Appalachian Dirt will be hosting a fundraising event at Stumptown Ales in Davis on Saturday, February 2. To find out more about the Yellow Creek Preserve or donate to the cause, visit www.buythemoonwv.org
Dylan Jones is publisher and editor-in-chief of Highland Outdoors. He’s unsuccessfully ridden Moon Rocks and can vouch for its gnarly character. This piece was produced in partnership with the West Virginia Land Trust.