ASSESSMENT OF INHOLDERS
IN THE MOUNT ROGERS NATIONAL RECREATION AREA
by Kent Anderson
TABLE OF CONTENTS
CHAPTER ONE: INTRODUCTION
CHAPTER TWO: A BRIEF HISTORY OF THE MOUNT ROGERS NATIONAL RECREATION AREA
CHAPTER THREE: SOME INHOLDERS OF THE MOUNT ROGERS AREA
CHAPTER FOUR: CONCLUSIONS
PHOTOGRAPHIC DOCUMENTATION INDEX
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
This report was funded independently by a grant from the Institute for Human Rights Research located in San Antonio, Texas. All opinions expressed herein are solely the responsibility of the author. I would like to take this opportunity to thank those many people, both in government and out, who permitted me to interview them. I would especially like to thank several people who greatly assisted he by supplying me with various documents, namely Kirby Brock and Robert Spivey of the United States Forest Service, Arlene Crow and Larry and Lorraine Pierce from the mount Rogers National Recreation Area, Charles Cushman of the National Inholders Association, and Steve Berry from the office of Congressman William C. Wampler.
The tallest mountain in the state of Virginia is Mount Rogers, over 5700 feet high, named after William Barton Rogers, the first state geologist for Virginia and later the founder of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Around Mount Rogers, in the Southwest corner of Virginia, is a rural landscape among beautiful green hills and mountains ranging from the North Carolina border on the south to north to the New River, misnamed because it is geologically the oldest river on the North American continent (Photos 36 and 37). In the mid-1960's Congress created the Mount Rogers National Recreation Area as a new concept in multiple-use recreation designed to satisfy the needs of those relatively close urban centers which were far removed from the older and more naturally spectacular National Parks.
The Mount Rogers NRA was placed under-the management of the U. S. Forest Service and this report will examine one aspect of that management, land acquisition. The report will focus less on Forest Service policies and more on the inholders affected. In 'his report the term "inholder" will be used in the broad sense of a property owner whose land adjoins, or is significantly affected by Federal land. Most of the field research conducted for this report was done in the four counties of Carroll, Grayson, Smyth, and Washington in Southwest Virginia. In the Sources section, some people listed under Interviews will not appear in the specific endnotes following each chapter. The knowledge gained from such sources was of a general nature.
In 1974, as part of their preparation of a Draft Environmental Impact Statement, the Forest Service contracted Professor Edwin Rhyne from the College of William and Mary to write a social impact analysis which he again updated in 1979. The Rhyne reports, at first glance, might be regarded as the documents more similar to this report than any others concerning the Mount Rogers area. Both authors conducted field research in the region and both interviewed approximately the same number of inholders. This report, however, will have a narrower focus. Following a brief history of the NRA, the report will detail how the lives of various inholders have been affected by the USFS land acquisition policies. Case studies, or profiles will be presented. The Rhyne reports were grounded in anonymity which is, more often not, demanded for certain studies. Despite its good points, this approach made the reports somewhat lifeless.
This report will not shroud the inholders interviewed in anonymous statistics and matrices. Hopefully, it will be anything but lifeless. The reader will meet real identified people, with real feelings and perceptions about their lives on the land around Mount Rogers, Virginia.1
A BRIEF HISTORY OF THE MOUNT ROGERS NATIONAL RECREATION AREA
The Mount Rogers National Recreation Area is part of the larger Jefferson National Forest and is managed by the U. S. Forest Service. That agency has a rather anomalous position within the Department of Agriculture dating from the administration of President Theodore Roosevelt. Prior to the conservation-minded Chief Executive, our National Forests had been ensconced in the Interior Department, but Roosevelt feared that unscrupulous administrators of that Department might sell timber leases to logging and lumber companies to the point of denuding the nation's forests. Therefore, he transferred the National Forests from Interior to Agriculture which he hoped would more scientifically and properly manage the harvest of those trees in the National Forest System. By leaving the compartment of government which managed the vast majority of Federal lands, the Forest Service was able to achieve a rare degree of autonomy within USDA which has persisted to this day.
For decades the Forest Service was primarily concerned with the controlled usage of its timber reserves, a task which, for the most part, it has performed admirably. For instance, in the specific case of the Jefferson National Forest, Forest Service management has done a remarkable job of reforestation. Prior to World War One, much of the area which now encompasses the National Forest (the bulk of which is in Southwestern Virginia with smaller parts in Kentucky and West Virginia) was stripped of its taller trees by voracious timber concerns. The Forest Service has returned the land to a lush state of pine-laden beauty and controlled timber harvesting. In the last few decades as the multiple-use management skills of the Forest Service have become more refined, recreation, mining, and a variety of other non-lumber uses have emerged to compete with the timber industry for space within the National Forest System. In the early 1960's the concept of National Recreation Areas came into being as a result of efforts by the Recreation Advisory Council, the Bureau of Outdoor Recreation and President John F. Kennedy. Kennedy foresaw an increased public appetite for recreation on Federal lands and, being an Easterner, realized that the majority of Americans were far removed from post of the National Parts. Therefore, National Recreation Areas were devised to increase the amount of land for recreation without the more stunning and unique features needed for the establishment of a National Park. NRA's must be relatively close to large urban centers and can fall under the management of either the National Park Service or the U. S. Forest Service, but the majority of the dozen or so NRA's existing today are managed by the latter agency.1
One of the first National Recreation Areas established was the one centered around Mount Rogers, Virginia within the Jefferson National Forest. Its creation was due largely to the efforts of Congressman W. Patrick Jennings who represented Southwestern Virginia in the House of Representatives at that time. Session after session in the early 1960's Jennings kept introducing his Bill which would provide for a "Mount Rogers Wonderland" or "Whitetop Wonderland" NRA in his home district. (Whitetop was the name of another tall mountain near Mount Rogers.) Finally in 1965, Jennings' Bill passed the House. The following year the Senate approved his measure and on May 31, 1966 President Lyndon Johnson signed the Act which authorized the Secretary of Agriculture to establish a Mount Rogers National Recreation Area under the management of the U. S. Forest Service. 2
The boundaries drawn up enveloped 154,000 acres among the counties of Carroll, Grayson, Smyth, Washington, and Wythe. Approximately 84,000 of those acres were already part of the Jefferson National Forest and of the remaining 70,000 acres, 39,000 were to be acquired by the government. The Forest Service told the Senate Agriculture Committee that it estimated 40 per cent of the 39,000 acres might be obtained by easements. An easement is basically a contract between a landowner and the government whereby the property owner agrees to certain restrictions on his or her land such as not constructing another building without Forest Service permission. For this specified control over part of the land in order to maintain an area's esthetic mandate, the government purchases the easement from the landowner while the landowner, in turn, retains title to the land and agrees to abide by the easement terms. Easements can be scenic, developmental, construction-type, or other forms, but all have the similarity of being less costly for the government than outright fee purchase of land and individually negotiable between property owner and government as a construction of contract law.3
Thus, the Mount Rogers NRA was ushered forth as a new venture in recreation and multiple-use management by the Forest Service. Early in 1967 local citizens in the five-county area banded together and formed "Citizens for Mount Rogers" which soon became the Mount Rogers Citizens Development Corporation to insure that the local populace would share in whatever new economic benefits the Recreation Area might bring. The first president of this organization was Albert Mock, Jr. The MRCDC also hoped to plan for the controlled development an the private lands within and near the NRA. This organization soon realized it needed more professional planners and a more formal structure. The CDC group hired a planner who then formed the Mount Rogers Planning District Commission, a landmark organization in the history of Virginia. It was the first regional planning agency in the state and the prototype for the 23 other planning districts which followed in its wake by the early 1970's. The concerns of the MRPDC were primarily centered on the physical planning for the NRA such as waste disposal, parking, taxation, and law enforcement, but as the years wore on the organization grew more concerned with human resources. The practical planning of the MRPDC coupled with the boosterism of the MRCDC worked together with the initial assumption that the NRA would bring enormous economic benefit to a poor rural area of the state. 4
While all of this was going on in the late 1960's, the Forest Service was formulating a preliminary plan of its own for the new Recreation Area. Early in 1968 the Forest Service presented its vision of the Mount Rogers NRA. At that time and for the following ten years, the Forest Service estimated that the NRA would draw five million visitor days per year by the year 2000. A "visitor day" is a unit of measurement for calculating park and recreation area usage. One visitor day is any combination of use totaling 12 hours (such as one person for 12 hours or six people for two hours). Five million visitor days was an extremely high estimate and yet very much in line with the "boom" mentality of the times. An independent technical report, by the firm of Gardner Gidley in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, predicted nine million visitor days by the year 2000. More important, what the Forest Service had proposed to attract such a large population was a massive series of recreational complexes which included a luxury ski slope facility near Pine mountain, and five major recreation complexes with campsites, swimming facilities, trails for hikers-and horseback riders, and picnic units. Also anticipated were several impoundments, or "artificial lakes", for fishing and a semi-restricted scenic highway to cross virtually the entire length of the NRA along the crest of Iron Mountain (Photo 1) . The theme chosen by the Forest Service to represent the Mount Rogers area was "Rural Americana." 5
In these days of declining expectations it is difficult to recapture the mentality of economic confidence of the late 1960's. There was very little opposition to NFS pronouncements regarding Mount Rogers in the early years. Most people probably believed that the certain economic boom within the NRA would outweigh any disruptions of life in this Southern Appalachian region although, just as probable, few persons took the time to seriously consider the specific impact of 5,000,000 visitor days, a scenic highway, and a ski lodge on the mountain people who happened to live in the pathways of these projects. It was only alter two crucial changes were experienced by people in the early and mid-1970's that opposition to the Mount Rogers NRA began to swell; the economic future suddenly appeared clouded with doubts and the Forest Service's land acquisition plans for the Recreation Area began to hit people quite literally where they lived.
To its credit, the Forest Service always stated during these early years that its proposals for the NRA such as the ski slope and scenic highway were preliminary or "draft". Nonetheless, the Jefferson National Forest could not operate in a vacuum and specific managerial assumptions had to he made to proceed with the Congressional mandate for Mount Rogers. In 1967-1968 a Land Management Plan was drawn up for the NRA and its implementation slowly commenced. At this time the Jefferson Forest leaders set the objective of acquiring 16,300 acres of land from 124 different owners by 1969 (Stage I) and the lesser priority acreage of 22,700 by 1973 (Stage II). 6
The expected land acquisition of the NFS slowed considerably as the economic downturn of the 1970's dampened plans for the Mount Rogers NRA. One million visitor days had been predicted by 1972. The reality of tourism within the Recreational Area was a much smaller amount. The year 1971 saw only 320,500 visitor days. As of December 1972 the Forest Service had acquired only 13,000 acres instead of the whole of the 39,000 "must acquisitions" it had originally intended to obtain by that time. As stated before, part of the reason was economic. President Richard Nixon impounded much of the Forest service appropriations during the early 1970's and his administration was somewhat miserly with those NFS funds which it did release. Another reason for the slowdown was the nascent protest against the Forest Service methods of land acquisition. 7
One of the very first people to speak out against the expansion of NRA lands was the Reverend Bill Gable, a Lutheran pastor who lived in the Konnarock area. Gable moved into the area in mid-1971 and by Christmas of that same year began to hear stories about people being forced off their land by the Forest Service. He investigated the complaints and discovered that some inholders who did not want to sell were being driven off their properties by Declarations of Taking. A Declaration of taking is a severe form of condemnation derived from a 1931 Act of Congress whereby the government, in acquiring land for public use, gains title to the property immediately and evicts the former owner usually within 20 to 90 days. The government also must immediately deposit an amount of money with the court equal to what it estimates the value of the land to be. The former owner can then withdraw any part of this money without prejudicing his right to contest the government's estimate of his or her land value. The only issue to be decided in the trial following a Declaration of Taking is whether the government's estimate of the property is truly just compensation for the former owner. The value of the land is based on the time of the DT, not at the time of trial. Also in Declarations of Taking, the government is obliged to relocate the former owner based on the Uniform Relocation Assistance and Real Property Acquisition Policies Act of 1970 which provides for moving expenses and assistance in finding a comparable relocation site. In a straight condemnation, or condemnation by complaint, the landowner retains title to the property until after all litigation is over. The property can be altered before the final decision is rendered and the determination of just compensation is made at the time of trial which is normally years after the government hat initially condemned the land. In these cases, if the government feels that the amount of compensation awarded the property owner is excessive, it can then dismiss the case from condemnation and would be only obliged to pay litigation costs and attorneys' fees to the property owner. From the government's point of view, Declarations of Taking are much quicker routes for the acquisition of land than straight condemnation and often less costly, although their implied usage is to be more of an emergency nature such as when a landowner might be violating an easement restriction by clear cutting a large amount of timber. For the property owner, a DT can be the most traumatic event in one's life. 8
When Bill Gable perceived what was occurring around him with regard to land acquisition, he organized inholders to oppose further condemnation by the Forest Service. He formed the Laurel Valley Land Owners Association near Konnarock. Gable had 82 acres of land within the NRA, but personally was never approached by the Forest Service for his land. He also attempted to organize the landowners in the Fairwood Valley area where many inholders bad been served Declarations of Taking. This area was the site near one of the proposed impoundments and a large recreation complex. Gable saw his primary mission as helping to preserve the mountain culture by getting the NPS to cease its forced evictions of landholders unwilling to sell. He also believed that Mount Rogers would not bring about the great economic boom many had hoped for. In 1971 a very negative research report was issued regarding the supposed monetary benefits of the NRA (Recreation Potential in the Appalachian Highlands, a report for the Appalachian Regions Commission, prepared by URS Research Company, San Mateo, Calif.). Also, at a meeting of inholders near Whitetop mountain in 1973, Gable forced the Forest Service to admit that they had no specific plans for economic development for the local people. After some thought, a Jefferson forest leader told the stunned audience of 150, "You can all cut firewood for the campers". 9
Gradually more people began to listen to Bill Gable. The Boards of Supervisors of the affected counties began to echo many of his same questions to the Forest Service, particularly in Washington County whose Board of Supervisors unanimously passed a resolution opposing further condemnations. Gable hired a lawyer, John Lowe from Charlottesville, to fight in late 1973 against the Declarations of Taking going on in the Fairwood region. Lowe tried to obtain an injunction against further evictions on the basis that (1) the Secretary of Agriculture had not signed for each condemnation and (2) the Forest Service was in violation of the National Environmental Protection Act (NEPA) by not conducting an Environmental Impact Statement for its great plans for the Mount Rogers area. Actually, at the same time, the Forest Service announced that it already intended to prepare a Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS). Early in 1974 the Jefferson National Forest supervisor estimated that the DEIS would take about six months to complete. As part of that process, the NFS contracted for the first social impact analysis by Professor Edwin Rhyne of the College of William and Mary. In September of 1974 the Forest Service had to revise its schedule as it announced that the DEIS would take much longer than anticipated. The people of the Mount Rogers area began to lose their earlier enthusiasm for the Recreation Area. Albert Mock, Jr., the first president of the Citizens Development Corporation, lost 1700 acres of his property in a condemnation suit early in 1973. He felt that the Forest Service was proceeding beyond the scope of the Congressional intent and said he had become very discouraged about the NRA. Said Mock:
If it could be a project which truly involved people here, I'd be very much in favor of it. But as it stands now, I can't see that local people are going to get any benefits out of it.
Further condemnations of property by the Forest Service ceased in late 1974 as that agency and the public settled down for the long drawn-out process of a major DEIS, a process which would take almost four years, finally resulting in the appearance, in February of 1978, of the Draft EIS for the Mount Rogers NRA. The years 1975-1977 saw a lull in activity by both opponents and proponents of the National Recreation Area. The Forest Service continued to buy land, but only from willing sellers. It was also during this time that the Forest Service was obligated to collect public input toward the DEIS. Rev. Gable described this as an unsatisfactory process during these years. He said that the public sessions required that inholders or other interested parties sign up at the door if one wanted to speak alongside a podium of government officials, a requirement which frightened off many of the long-time residents of the area who had already approached the public meetings with some trepidation. It was also during the mid-1970's that the intensity of Bill Gable waned in his struggle against the forced dislocation of some of his former neighbors. 10
When the Draft Environmental Impact Statement (or Unit Plan as it was often called) was released to the public in early 1978 a crescendo of opposition was soon heard from much of the local citizenry. What upset so many people was not that the Unit Plan contained a new scope of planning for the NRA, but rather that nothing had been deleted from the original plans of the late 1960's. The 63 mile scenic highway and the ski slope complex on Pine mountain were still being proposed for the area by the Forest Service as were the several impoundments and extensive campground facilities. The DEIS still projected 5,000,000 visitor days by the year 2000 even though the 1970's were proving to be a dismal disappointment in this regard. The year 1978 saw only 434,000 visitor days within the NRA. To many, it appeared that the Forest Service had ignored totally the past ten years of OPEC-induced gasoline shortages, a sagging economy, and a dwindling rate of tourism growth. 11
The opposition to the Forest Service plans was greater than what Rev. Gable was able to garner in the early years of the decade. People opposed the plans for the Mount Rogers NRA for a variety of environmental and economic reasons in addition to opposing the land acquisition tactics of the USFS. An organization which called itself Citizens for Southwest Virginia was quickly formed. As in the case of opposition to the National Park Service along the Blue Ridge Parkway, this group was a curious mixture of relative newcomers to the area as well as being partly led by members of same of the oldest families of the mountains. Leaders of the Citizens group included Charley and Tula Newman, Lawrence and Lorraine Pierce, and June Slemp. Citizens for Southwest Virginia published two extensively-read newsletters, hired legal aid, and very quickly were able to present nearly 3,000 signatures in opposition to the DEIS or Unit Plan for Mount Rogers to the Forest Service. By late spring the astounding total of nearly 24,000 signatures had been collected in opposition to the DEIS. (These signatures are now in the possession of June Slemp.) The Citizens group had five stated goals:
(1) to stop further condemnation of land
(2) to stop the proposed ski slope
(3) to stop the proposed scenic highway
(4) to promote further development of the NRA, on guidelines emphasizing moderate camping and tourist facilities, hiking, trails, and horseback riding
(5) to keep Rural America alive and not turn it into a sideshow for tourists
As one can gather from this, opposition to land acquisition from unwilling sellers was only one part of the furor against the plans for the NRA. Environmental concerns often drew the greatest attention. The Citizens group was joined by allies such as the National Wildlife Federation and the Sierra Club. Also assisting was The Plow, a twice-monthly newspaper published in Abingdon and edited ably by Bill Blanton. 12
On the other side, there were still many local persons who favored the DEIS and the greatly expanded NRA. Some of these people included local mayors, supervisors, and many businessmen who hoped for, or already had, commercial concerns near the fringe of the Mount Rogers area. Often the most bitter and heated exchanges were between these two opposing groups rather than between the Citizens group and the Forest Service as one might assume. In between, there were many locals who opposed only various parts of the Unit Plan. For example, Wythe County Planner, Robert Johnson, opposed the scenic highway, but favored all other aspects of the proposed development. Again, to its credit, the Forest Service stressed that these proposals were of a draft nature and the agency no doubt expected comments on the DEIS but the quantity and intensity of the reaction from the inholders and others must have surprised the USFS greatly.
The Forest Service absorbed the criticisms directed at its DEIS and prepared the Final Environmental Impact Statement which was finished early in 1980. In many ways, the DEIS was a victory for Citizens for Southwest Virginia and their supporters. The Forest Service significantly scaled down the plans for the NRA. Gone was the scenic highway as well as all of the impoundments except one near Bournes Branch. The ski slope and lodge was canceled and the projected tourist use of the Mount Rogers area was lowered to 2,000,000 visitor days by the year 2000. To those most concerned with the plight of the inholders, however, the DEIS was a cruel disappointment. Even though the major recreation projects first proposed in the 1960's had been discarded by the Forest Service, almost the exact same quantity of acreage targeted for land acquisition was in the Final EIS as had been in the Draft EIS for Mount Rogers. What was especially galling to many inholders was the fact that many of the former landowners forced off their property by the government by Declarations of Taking had been evicted for stated projects, such as the scenic highway and the Fox Creek impoundment, which the Forest Service now said had been canceled. The FEIS also contained a map which specified the types of land acquisition intended. The majority of acres were specified as willing seller-willing buyer and, as in the DEIS, for the first time in the history of the NRA, the Forest Service proposed to obtain some of the acreage by easement purchases (the area around Brush Creek). There is, however, a great amount of acreage on the map color-coded in yellow which means a "must acquisition" for the USFS and, presumably, a return to condemnations for those homeowners unwilling to leave their land for a price. Many of the inholders "in the yellow" apparently never even received a copy of the FEIS, or "blue book" as it is sometimes called. The reader will now meet several of those people in the following chapter, as well as others, and, hopefully, will discern their feelings, their fears, and their hopes for the future.13
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