Lee County could soon see some increased tourism activity should a congressional bill that has the endorsement of a broad coalition of wilderness supporters be approved. If enacted, the Virginia Ridge and Valley Act of 2007 would create a new Stone Mountain Wilderness Area at Cave Springs.
The bill would also create other Wilderness Areas, new National Scenic Areas and would expand six existing Wilderness Areas in portions of Bland, Craig, Grayson, Giles, Montgomery and Smyth counties within the Jefferson National Forest.
U.S. Rep. Rick Boucher and U.S. Sens. John Warner and Jim Webb on Tuesday joined together to introduce the bill in the U.S. House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate.
The bill, originally introduced in 2004, has strong support from a wide array of local and state officials, businesses, faith organizations, tourism and recreation groups, conservation organizations and individuals including the Virginia Tourism Corporation, Appalachian Trail Conference and Virginia Audubon Council.
Each of the proposed Wilderness Area and National Scenic Area designations has been endorsed by either the U.S. Forest Service or the board of supervisors of the county in which the area would be located.
The proposed Stone Mountain Wilderness Area is a 3,270-acre tract of land adjacent to the North Fork of the Powell River. The property is considered to be one of the least disturbed forests in all of Southwest Virginia and is home to rich populations of two rare salamanders. The Stone Mountain and Payne Branch trails are included as part of the proposed Wilderness Area and provide convenient access for hikers and hunters wishing to visit the Wilderness Area. The trails are also connected to an adjacent campground at Cave Springs.
"Southwest Virginia possesses the state's best outdoor experience, with the highest mountains, most interesting rivers and superb hunting, camping, fishing, hiking and backpacking opportunities," said Boucher. "If enacted, the legislation which Senator Warner and I are introducing today would not only designate nearly 55,000 acres of the Jefferson National Forest as Wilderness or National Scenic Areas, thereby protecting their pristine quality, but also would enhance the tourism economy of the region by enticing travelers to visit and enjoy the protected and untouched landscape which Southwest Virginia has to offer."
Designating a tract of land as a Wilderness Area enables the U.S. Forest Service to preserve the scenic and undisturbed character of the landscape. Recreational activities such as hunting, fishing, camping, canoeing, kayaking, swimming, picnicking, backpacking, bird watching, horseback riding, cross-country skiing, snowshoeing, spelunking and rock climbing would be continued and encouraged in the new Wilderness Areas. At the same time, motorized traffic and mechanized equipment would be banned to prevent any disruption to the ecosystems and diverse wildlife in the areas.
The Virginia Ridge and Valley Act would create six new Wilderness Areas and one new Wilderness Study Area within the Jefferson National Forest. The legislation would also create two new National Scenic Areas. The National Scenic Area designations in Southwest Virginia would protect the recreational, historic and natural resources in the delineated areas. Mountain biking would be permitted in the National Scenic Areas, and limited motorized access would be permitted in certain portions of the Scenic Areas.
In addition to Stone Mountain, the proposed new Wilderness Areas are:
â€¢Raccoon Branch in Smyth County in the Mount Rogers National Recreation Area.
â€¢Brush Mountain in Montgomery County near Blacksburg and Virginia Tech.
â€¢Brush Mountain East in Craig County, which would be adjacent to the Brush Mountain Wilderness Area.
â€¢Garden Mountain in Bland County.
â€¢Hunting Camp Creek in Bland County, which would be adjacent to the Garden Mountain Wilderness Area.
â€¢Lynn Camp Creek Wilderness Study Area in Bland County.
The proposed National Scenic Areas designated in the legislation are Seng Mountain and Bear Creek in Smyth County.