Rep. Nick J. Rahall
West Virginia is blessed with a wealth of natural resources that have not only provided livelihoods in such fields as mining and milling but also provided respite and recreation throughout its history, and I am proud of my work to conserve our state’s natural treasures in the development of a burgeoning tourism industry.
My 34-year membership on the Natural Resources Committee afforded me the chance to work on issues close to the hearts of many West Virginians — preserving our state’s rich heritage; protecting hunting, fishing, and other recreational activities; and safeguarding West Virginia’s special places for future generations to enjoy.
As a key proponent of West Virginia’s steadily growing tourism industry, I authored legislation in 1978 establishing the New River Gorge National River as a unit of the National Park System in southern West Virginia. Ten years later, I gained enactment of legislation to create the largest federally protected system of rivers east of the Mississippi River. Through these federal designations, as well as the whitewater rafting opportunities I helped to facilitate through the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and its seasonal releases from the Summersville Dam, I have helped to promote West Virginia’s natural and cultural treasures, attracting visitors from around the world to spend time among West Virginia’s majestic hills and friendly folk.
It was no coincidence that the Boy Scouts of America (BSA) Summit Bechtel Reserve — a half-billion dollar, state-of-the-art scouting facility — is located adjacent to the New River Gorge.
When commenting on our state’s rugged but inviting mountain venue, Wayne Perry, the Boy Scouts' national president, said, “We think God made West Virginia for the Boy Scouts of America.”
West Virginians revere nature and respect their role as stewards of God’s creation, and the Scouts have already become full partners in protecting our state’s rich history and resources for generations to come.
Two years ago, some 1,700 volunteers and staff from the BSA honor society Order of the Arrow helped clear and create multiple-use trails at the New River Gorge National River. A National Park Service official estimated the Boy Scouts’ sweat equity saved taxpayers a million dollars and would have taken the Park Service 10 years to complete what the Scouts accomplished in a month.
Our state’s churches, community centers, city halls, public flag displays, and local cemeteries have been fortunate to attract Eagle Scout candidates hoping to fulfill their community project requirements. Not only do Scouts make necessary repairs, rehabilitate whole areas, and improve a corner of a community with their projects, oftentimes they spur others to take on additional projects. Before you know it whole neighborhoods can be freshened up with a little boost from the Scouts.
Imagine then, multiplying those ready hands and good hearts by tens of thousands. The 2013 National Jamboree is committing one day of a Scout’s jamboree experience to working in one of nine counties in southern West Virginia on one of over 300-plus community projects. The numbers are impressive: 40,000 Scouts will complete about 300,000 hours of community service. In coordination with the Citizens Conservation Corps of West Virginia, it is one of the largest community service efforts of its kind ever to be performed.
The Boy Scouts Reserve development is proving to be the proverbial win-win scenario for West Virginians on several fronts, advertising high-adventure tourism — hiking, rafting, rappelling, mountain biking — in the wilds of West Virginia, all of which bodes well for job creation and our state’s long-range economic outlook.
As I continue to strive to further our state’s efforts to preserve the natural environment and bolster its tourism industry, the Boy Scouts will serve as a reminder of the enormous economic benefits that can flow from conserving and developing our state’s national treasures for generations to come.
(Rahall represents West Virginia’s 3rd Congressional District.)