The Appalachian Forest National Heritage Area (AFNHA) was designated as a National Heritage Area in March 2019, recognizing the national significance of our forest heritage in the highland’s region of West Virginia and Maryland, including the Monongahela National Forest. A journey that began in 2001 as a heritage tourism initiative from West Virginia University, AFHA, Inc, was incorporated as a non-profit in 2003. AFNHA operates several programs to support the mission to benefit local communities. Since 2007, AFNHA has operated an AmeriCorps program that works with local heritage community development and conservation partners.
The Appalachian Forest National Heritage Area has outstanding natural resources, and historical and cultural themes of regional and national significance. The central Appalachians of AFNHA are the core of the central hardwood forest that is today the largest of its kind in the world, hosting an unusual biodiversity of plant and animal species. This forest provided resources for American industrial expansion in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. The lessons learned from cutting these forests contributed significantly to the conservation movement, the formation of eastern National Forests, and rise of modern scientific forestry.
The Forest Heritage story can be told through a variety of resources, such as remnants of old growth forests, protected wilderness areas, historic sites from the logging era including the intact logging company town at Cass Scenic Railroad State Park, national and state forest lands created to foster regrowth of the forest, CCC structures demonstrating conservation efforts, experimental forests demonstrating the evolution of forestry management, managed public and private forests, and a dynamic forest industry with mills and value-added products that demonstrate the ongoing importance of the forest and forest products to this region.
The central Appalachian culture—including folklife, music, dance, crafts, and traditions—are inextricably tied to the forest and reliance upon forest products. The extensive forests and undeveloped rural character of the Appalachian Forest National Heritage Area provide natural and recreational resources, scenic vistas, outdoor recreation, and opportunities for nature observation for people throughout the United States to enjoy.
As a designated National Heritage Area, AFNHA is currently working to develop a “Management Plan” to guide our partnership efforts moving forward. This work is being directed by our consultant team and AFNHA staff, with extensive input from partners and the public. AFNHA has developed a new mission statement for the Plan and set of goals for the organization’s future, with intention to submit the Management Plan to the National Park Service in the Spring of 2022.
Mission: The Appalachian Forest National Heritage Area conserves, interprets, and promotes forest heritage to enhance landscapes and communities in the highlands of West Virginia and Maryland.
Five goals are:
- Identify, preserve, conserve, and enhance assets that reflect forest heritage.
- Share the stories of our forest heritage through education, interpretation, and experiences.
- Support heritage tourism and community economic development to benefit rural communities.
- Connect and support partners linked by the region’s forest heritage.
- Manage, promote, and sustain AFHA, Inc as the National Heritage Area Coordinating Entity organization.
AFNHA currently operates an extensive AmeriCorps program in the 16 West Virginia counties in the National Heritage Area. Members provide a year of service, allowing an individual to benefit local communities and landscapes while gaining professional development and strengthening their own skills. AmeriCorps members receive a living allowance stipend plus an education award upon completion.
AFNHA partners with numerous organizations in local communities to improve and enhance tourism products. Through a partnership with Eastern Community and Technical College and support from the Claude Worthington Benedum Foundation, the Highlands Creative Economy regional project will develop and implement tourism enhancements for sites and attractions and help to recover from pandemic impacts. This project will result in enhanced tourism products, services, and experiences for customers or visitors. The program is designed to complement existing efforts while exploring new opportunities for supporting tourism and creative economy growth.
AFNHA also serves as the fiscal sponsor for the Monongahela Outdoor Volunteers (MOV), an organization that works to help communities in and around the Gauley District of the Monongahela National Forest transition to trails-based recreational tourism economies. The group is currently working under a 2020 ARC POWER Technical Assistance Grant to create a plan for a volunteer trail maintenance center that has the capacity to restore, expand, and maintain the extensive trail infrastructure within the district through volunteer programs that additionally help residents develop skills for work in the outdoor industry.
Finally, through partnerships and outreach, AFNHA seeks to establish a network of existing and new pollinator habitats to support populations of pollinator species throughout the Appalachian Forest region. We do this by having local communities and organizations sign a Pollinator Pledge and Initiative. Due to the severity of declines in pollinator species abundance, it is critical to expand efforts and take new steps to reverse local pollinator losses, restore populations, and improve habitats. This is particularly important in the Appalachian Forest region. Due to a lack of historical data on the abundance of pollinator species in this region, there are many species that may be in decline that scientists and researchers are unaware of. This is especially concerning because the unique topography and biodiversity of high number of ecotypes in the Appalachian Forest region indicates a wide range of pollinator species in the area, many of which are undocumented.
For more about AFNHA or to visit see www.appalachianforestnha.org. To get involved or learn more contact our staff at firstname.lastname@example.org or 304-636-6182. AFNHA looks forward to a vibrant future for 18-county National Heritage Area conserving and promoting forest heritage in the highlands of West Virginia and Maryland.