Old-growth lands, islands donated to WV land trust

Repost from Rick Steelhammer, Charleston Gazette-Mail 

Old-growth lands, islands donated to WV land trust

Two islands in the Ohio River and a 200-acre tract of wooded land in Doddridge County encompassing a rare, 15-acre stand of old growth forest have been donated to the West Virginia Land Trust for use as public nature preserves. 

Gallipolis Island was donated to the Land Trust by its former owners, the City of Gallipolis, Ohio, and private landowner Michael Hoeft of Milton. While the 5-acre island lies a short distance off the Gallipolis shoreline, it remains a part of West Virginia, which owns the river to the low-water points along the Ohio shore. 

The narrow, wooded island once included 80 acres of land, and in the 1840s was the site of a park with picnic tables, beaches and a playground. 

Also donated to the Land Trust by Hoeft, a retired biologist for the West Virginia DNR, was Ohio County’s Upper Twin Island near Wheeling, about 3 acres of which remained above water in 2001, but now all 125 acres of it lies beneath the surface of the river. 

“The pooling of the river that came with the construction of locks and dams flooded much of the islands’ former land mass, then waves from passing barges eroded them even more,” said Ashton Berdine, the Land Trust’s land programs manager. 

Berdine said the Land Trust plans to retain ownership of the lands until funding can be found to protect the islands from further erosion and begin to restore and stabilize them with additional land, possibly by using soil being dredged from the river’s navigation channel. After the islands are restored and stabilized, they will be given to the Ohio River Islands National Wildlife Refuge, he said. 

Even the underwater portions of the islands are beneficial to wildlife, according to Patty Morrison, a biologist for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service at the refuge. 

“There is a variety of structure and habitat there,” she said. “Submerged logs and stumps, aquatic vegetation, occasional boulders, gravel and sand with scattered cobble — these underwater features all provide habitat for an amazing diversity of native fish and mussels.” 

The islands also provide food and shelter for migratory birds and waterfowl, reptiles and amphibians, owls, bats and other animals. 

Until the islands are transferred to U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service management, the Land Trust will manage them for fish and wildlife habitat and public recreation. 

“The acquisition of islands in the Ohio River is an exciting opportunity from not only the perspective of protecting a critical habitat, but also for the people and communities along one of the major waterways of the country,” said Land Trust Executive Director Brent Bailey. “We’re grateful to the donors of these properties for their interest in ensuring that the public will benefit from these unique tracts.” 

The Land Trust’s recently acquired tract in Doddridge County, located about 5 miles north of West Union off Nutter Fork Road, will be managed as a public nature preserve. 

“As we find partners to work with us, we want begin developing a parking area and a trail leading to the almost 20 acres of ancient forest found on the site,” said Berdine. 

Only small, scattered patches of West Virginia’s virgin forests escaped the intensive logging that took place here between 1880 and 1920. A 130-acre stand of old growth forest at Cathedral State Park is the state’s largest known remnant. 

“The bigger patches of old-growth forest in West Virginia are mostly known and the smaller pockets are getting increasingly harder to find,” said Berdine. In the future, old growth stands in the state “may exist as just a few acres of trees or just a few trees.” 

“Because of age, wind and storms, and things like diseases caused by insects such as the hemlock woolly adelgid, old growth forests in West Virginia are becoming increasingly rare,” said Bailey. “We are thrilled to be able to preserve this property for all West Virginians and ensure that it is forever protected as a nature preserve, so that these types of exceptional ecosystems exist for future generations to see.” 

The Doddridge County tract was donated to Land Trust by Allen Jones of California, whose mother bought the property in 1973 to protect its natural features. It will be managed as the Marie Hall Jones Preserve in her honor.

WVU’s Land Use and Sustainable Development Law Clinic and the West Virginia Geological and Economic Survey helped the WVLT in protecting the property. 

Reach Rick Steelhammer at rsteelhammer@wvgazettemail.com, 304-348-5169 or follow @rsteelhammer on Twitter.