Monday, August 2, 2010

New State Forest in Rockbridge County

The Commonwealth of Virginia now has 20 State Forests with the addition of the 2,353-acre Moore’s Creek State Forest in southwestern Rockbridge County. Purchased from the City of Lexington, the tract features mountain vistas, scenic trails and abundant wildlife, including black bear, wild turkey and a host of migratory songbirds.

Funding for the purchase, which totaled $2 million, was provided to the Virginia Department of Forestry (VDOF) through the General Assembly’s 2008 conservation bond fund.

“With the exception of Lexington’s 40-acre reservoir in the center of the property, this tract is completely wooded and is surrounded on three sides by the George Washington National Forest,” said Carl Garrison, state forester of Virginia. “Large tracts of unbroken forested acres, which provide numerous environmental benefits for all Virginians, are becoming increasingly rare in the Commonwealth. We are very grateful to the City of Lexington for allowing us to become the stewards of this forest.”

Because of the steep terrain and limited access, timber harvesting is not part of the nascent management plan at this time. But for those people who are willing to hike the moderate-to-difficult 2 1/4 –mile trail, they will be rewarded with some excellent brook trout fishing. And, since the City of Lexington has retained ownership of the reservoir and associated dam, anglers will pay $1 for a daily fishing pass instead of having to purchase an annual State Forest Use Permit – required for fishing on other State Forests – for $16 per year. People wanting to hunt, trap or mountain bike on the tract, however, must have the State Forest Use Permit, which can be purchased through the Virginia Department of Game & Inland Fisheries website or at local retail outlets authorized by DGIF to sell hunting and trapping licenses.

“Area residents can be assured that we have no plans to conduct a timber harvest on this land during the foreseeable future,” Garrison said. “While timber harvesting is an important forest management tool that we recommend, the condition of the timber and the limited access on this site simply don’t lend themselves to harvesting at this time. What you see there now is what you’ll see for a while.”

Rob Farrell, VDOF’s assistant director for land conservation, said this acquisition was a win-win situation for the City of Lexington and the citizens of the Commonwealth. “Through the concerted efforts of area conservationists, such as Daphne Raz and Faye Cooper, and the City of Lexington’s Manager Jon Ellestad and Attorney Larry Mann, a significant forest has been forever protected. Virginians for generations to come will reap the benefits of this good work.”

Access to the trailhead is via US Forest Service road off State Route 612 in southwestern Rockbridge County. (GPS coordinates: Latitude 37 44 44, Longitude 79 38 53) As with most of the State Forests, visitors should carry their own supplies, such as drinking water, and be advised that there are no facilities at the Moore’s Creek State Forest.