This is an op-ed piece submitted by the Mon Valley Green Space Coalition (MVGSC). The views expressed in this piece do not necessarily represent the views of Highland Outdoors. But, we agree that West Virginia’s cities should embrace and designate more open spaces for public use. We encourage healthy, respectful debate, so feel free to leave a comment. -ED
Morgantown is growing, but its green space is shrinking. This isn’t a formula for a healthy community.
Enter the Mon Valley Green Space Coalition (MVGSC). Founded in 1995 and revived with a new board and new initiatives in 2018, the MVGSC is committed to developing, maintaining, and protecting interconnected trails and green spaces in the Monongahela River Valley.
When communities protect green space, it leads to smart development, urban revitalization, and better public health. Rather than expand outward into forested landscapes, developers are encouraged to invest in brownfield locations and to revamp dilapidated houses and buildings. The physical and mental health benefits of green space are well-documented. And if managed creatively, green space can be used to provide alternative routes of travel for commuters.
With the latter benefit in mind, the MVGSC is advocating for the creation of a greenbelt around Morgantown. “What we envision is a greenbelt that connects the neighborhoods to the existing parks and then also connects neighborhoods to the city’s center and surrounding areas so you can get to the parks and to the rail-trail from your house without getting into a car,” said JoNell Strough, chair of the MVGSC.
To create a greenbelt, the city would have to purchase some land and acquire rights-of-way on other properties. A key piece to Morgantown’s greenbelt is the Haymaker Forest, 42 wooded acres that border Morgantown’s first, second, and sixth wards. This past summer, the city attempted to purchase the property but ultimately couldn’t reach an agreement with the landowners. The MVGSC is still hopeful that some of the forest—clearing of trees has begun on the lower portion of it—can be saved.
Two other projects the MVGSC is working on are securing use of Morgantown’s new reservoir for recreational activity and seeing an environmentally-friendly route for the reservoir’s pipes around White Park.
The Morgantown Utility Board’s (MUB) George B. Flegal Dam and Reservoir, located three miles outside of town, will provide the city with a 30-day water supply. The MVGSC would like to see its wooded areas used for hiking and the reservoir itself serve as a place to swim, fish, and operate non-motorized water crafts.
In order to complete the water pipeline, MUB wants to run a portion of it through White Park, a beloved green space in Morgantown’s first ward. In laying the pipe, MUB would cut a 40-to-60-foot-wide swath through the park. The MVGSC is opposed to any destructive MUB activity in White Park.
Strough recognizes that some people in Morgantown will dismiss the MVGSC’s wish to keep the pipeline out of the park as the whining of tree-huggers. But preserving the park, she said, offers numerous benefits to the entire community. “People make discoveries in the park,” Strough said. “Kids need a place to play and be creative and be imaginative. They can create their own worlds.”
The MVGSC is a nonprofit green space advocacy organization based in Morgantown, WV. You can contact the organization via its Facebook page.