The WVU Woodlot, accessed from West Run Road and adjacent to the WVU Animal Sciences Farm, is currently utilized by trail enthusiasts and mountain bikers. While the majority of the 100-acre forest will remain open to recreationists, a section will be marked restricted and will be monitored by University Police starting immediately.
The restricted section of the Woodlot has been found to contain sinkholes, a result of “room and pillar” underground mining methods utilized in the 1920s, followed by surface mining used to remove the coal near the outcrop during the 1940s. Dangerous 40-foot highwalls, sheer cliffs with cracking rocks and continual degradation and slippage, exist on this section of the property. The area has also developed cracks and sinkholes as deep as 40 feet.
In May, WVU alerted the state Department of Environmental Protection Abandoned Mine Land Program to register a complaint for the abandoned mine land found on the site. Inspectors visited the site in May and determined that the site should be placed on the National Inventory List as a Priority 1, which means the area could be reclaimed during the next three to 10 years.
In the meantime, warning signs will be placed throughout the Woodlot, alerting visitors to hidden dangers such as sinkholes and restricting access to certain areas. Yellow hazard flagging will also be placed around at least four sinkholes to warn visitors that these areas should not be approached. Where hiking and biking trails lead up to areas where sinkholes are found, rocks and trees will be placed to stop the flow of traffic. WVU is also examining ways to safely fill the sinkholes.
It will take several weeks for the signs to be created and the university is working diligently to mark the sinkholes, but WVU advises those recreating in the Woodlot to take precautions and stay away from the highwall areas.
The WVU Davis College of Agriculture, Natural Resources and Design currently uses this woodlot to demonstrate responsible forest management. The college aims to further develop the woodlot as a demonstration forest for sustainable recreation management. Students in several classes have already conducted online user surveys and developed goals and actions steps toward developing the area for recreational use.
“While we do not wish to keep people from utilizing this woodlot, we must ensure that everyone is safe,” said Davis College Dean Daniel Robison. “We are working to not only mitigate the problem, but to also enhance the recreational opportunities for people from around the region.”
The goals of the project include encouraging complementary public use and enjoyment of local natural resources, promoting interactive opportunities for environmental learning and creating a living lab to demonstrate sustainable recreation principles and practices.
Chad Pierskalla and Steve Selin, faculty members in recreation, parks and tourism resources, have found that between 50 and 100 people can be found recreating on this site during any given weekend day, mostly for mountain biking, hiking or walking.
The professors are working with a group of key stakeholders on developing the area, have conducted a recreational use survey, held an open house to obtain public and stakeholder input and are now working to develop a final sustainable recreation management plan.
“This Woodlot project will enhance the West Virginia University mission of research, teaching and service by providing a sustainable living laboratory for students, faculty and the community,” Selin said. “The extension of our science-based management efforts of the Woodlot will benefit the greater Morgantown community by providing a unique recreation environment to enjoy and conserve.”
CONTACT: Julie Cryser, Davis College of Agriculture, Natural Resources and Design
Lindsay Willey, Davis College of Agriculture, Natural Resources and Design
Follow @WVUToday on Twitter.