The timing seems almost surreal. Just a couple of weeks after my husband John and I visited the site of the proposed Birthplace of Rivers National Monument in West Virginia’s Monongahela National Forest, ferocious floods devastated the region. I had already submitted my feature on the proposed monument for the July issue of The Observer when the floods hit, and the issue reached the stands just as those of us elsewhere in the state (and the country) realized the extent of the devastation.
I worried that an article on the potential designation of a national monument in the area would seem trivial in light of lives lost and property damaged. I’m told by those familiar with the area that recovery in many communities will take years, and public access to many of the recreation areas in the proposed monument are destroyed. I can only begin to imagine what those most affected are going through now.
But instead of seeming trivial, I hope this article can be viewed as a small beacon of hope. Supporters of the designation, including town leaders in Lewisburg, Fayette County and Richwood, and many outdoor recreation business owners, hope that national recognition as a monument will bring new tourists and their dollars to an economically challenged region. And as journalists and others discussed at a recent conference hosted by West Virginia University’s Reed College of Media (New Story: Changing the Narrative in West Virginia), our state typically receives national attention only when disaster strikes. But there are lots of other compelling West Virginia stories to tell. I hope my current feature for The Observer is one of them.