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About Mon Forest Towns

Mon Forest bear logo

The Monongahela National Forest (MNF), in the northcentral highlands of West Virginia, comprises roughly a million acres of National Forest System lands. The numerous rural communities that are surrounded by the MNF have long had their livelihoods tied to the coal and timber industries and wood products. Over the last few decades, these industries have waned and these communities are struggling to find a new path forward. 

T oday, an approximate 1.3 million visitors come to th e Monongahela National Forest each year. It is a place where visitors can enjoy breathtaking vistas, peaceful country roads, gently flowing streams, and glimpses of many plants and animals. The MNF was established in 1920 and encompasses one of the most ecologically diverse areas in the United States, with elevations from just under 1,000 feet to 4,863 feet above sea level. The MNF is a ‘working’ forest, which provides timber, water, grazing, minerals and recreational opportunities. The national importance of the recreation resource of the Monongahela has been recognized through the designation of the Spruce Knob – Seneca Rocks National Recreation Area, the first NRA in the Forest Service, National Scenic Byway status for the Highland Scenic Highway, and eight Wilderness Areas. Dispersed recreation opportunities abound for hiking, backpacking, fishing, hunting, mountain biking, climbing, and kayaking. MNF staff includes a Forest Supervisor, four District Rangers, and Recreation Program Managers.

Recreational Development

The recreation economy has been recognized by the United States Department of Agriculture as an emerging or priority area of national need.  According to the Outdoor Industry of America, the outdoor recreation economy generates $887 billion in spending, supports 7.6 million direct American jobs and generates $125 billion in federal, state, and local tax revenue.  Outdoor recreation is a growing and diverse economic super sector that is a vital cornerstone of successful communities that cannot be ignored, yet, many rural communities lack the capacity and resources needed to successfully support and capitalize on the recreation economy.  

Project Partners

The USDA Forest Service values the communities in and around the Monongahela National Forest and has an emphasis in its mission to support efforts that foster a vibrant recreation economy. This is not only reflected in our national priorities, it is rooted in our history, land ethic, and our employees who live and work in our Mon Forest Towns. The FS strives to be good neighbors that promote shared stewardship through partnership, volunteerism, and great customer service.  

The Forest Service recognizes that it manages these federal lands directly impacts the surrounding communities.  This connection is what led the USDA Forest Service to connect with its rural communities.  The FS role has been to serve as conveners that work to link gateway communities, the USDA, WVU, and our partners in order to break down barriers between agencies and to better support these communities.  The FS also brings attention to funding opportunities and provides support when this partnership applies for grants.  The FS is excited to continue to support this collective effort to build and maintain an economy that thrives off of recreation, tourism, healthy landscapes, and active land management.

The 2017  USDA Recreation Economy Resource Guide empowers Rural Development field staff, Forest Service district rangers, and the Cooperative Extension System to identify funding and technical assistance resources and best practices available to best support small business development in the communities they serve, enhance the local recreation economy, improve quality of life for locals and the positive experiences of visiting recreation enthusiasts.

West Virginia University Extension Service has broad educational, research and technical assistance resources that can help with planning associated with the recreational economy.  WVU Extension employs an  Appreciative Participatory Planning and Action framework which seeks to find and emphasize the positive, successes, and strengths as a means to empower communities, groups, and organizations, to plan and manage development and conservation.

USDA Rural Development provides support to the Monongahela National Forest Recreation Economies initiative by Identifying potential technical assistance, grant and loan candidates and informing Forest Service District Rangers about available funding and technical assistance resources in Rural Development that can support the recreation industry and encourage them to work with Rural Development field staff whenever the opportunity arises to build partnerships. This can include proactively connecting funding and technical assistance candidates with Rural Development field staff, collaborating in forest land management planning and implementation, and sharing best practices.

Our vision is to connect communities to each other, to the forest, and to our natural resources to generate positive and tangible outcomes that will improve quality of life and vitality of this region.

Map of WV showing updated forest boundaries

We will pursue this vision together with our partners
through three key objectives:

Provide a Gateway for Escape, Exploration, and Adventure in Diverse Landscapes.
Build Sustainable Recreation Opportunities through Community Engagement.
Foster a Recreation Economy with Direct and Indirect Benefits for the Local Communities