Group finalizes land purchase

Published 12:00 am Friday, January 14, 2005


- An international conservation group has finalized its plans to purchase an additional 1,107 acres of rural land in Lawrence County, bringing its total property owned to 3,604 acres.

County economic development leaders have the same concerns now as they did in December 2003 when The Nature Conservancy announced its plans.

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Earlier this week, the nonprofit organization's Ohio chapter completed the second phase of the two-part land purchase in rural Washington Township and 514 acres in Greenfield Township in Gallia County.

"Together, these purchases protect more than 4,000 acres of Appalachian forest, one of the oldest and most diverse forest systems in North America," Rich Shank, the state director of the Ohio Chapter, said in a written release.

"And today's purchase marks the completion of the largest land-protection project in our chapter's 45-year history."

The land purchased by the Conservancy is located within the Ironton Ranger District of the Wayne National Forest, and the Conservancy hopes that one day this property will be transferred to the U.S. Forest Service to become part of Ohio's only national forest.

The land has been owned by MeadWestvaco Corp. since 1996.

"We're protecting future forests," Shank said. "As part of the Wayne National Forest, this land will be a resource for generations to come - a forest that can provide timber, recreation opportunities and wildlife habitat for a multitude of species."

But it is this very same future that has Lawrence County Chamber of Commerce leaders and the county commissioners concerned. Both are opposed to expanding the forest until the existing land in the national forest can be further developed. The Governor's Office of Appalachia has agreed to fund a study of how to do that and results will be presented at a public meeting at 7 p.m. tonight at Ohio University Southern.

"I have a concern for the long-term situation. In the short run, for land to be transferred to the federal government is not that concerning," said Dr. Bill W. Dingus, executive director of the chamber and Lawrence Economic Development Corporation.

"But my big concern is that once the property is transferred, it is a permanent situation. It can't be sold by the government."

Dingus said he is worried that this deal will restrict use by citizens and impede any future development.

However, he said one positive is that much of the property is wooded and is not the prime developable area along State Route 243.

"We just have to look at the big picture and have to set parameters to safeguard the future," Dingus said. "The forest is a valuable asset to our county. … My concern is just the long-term implications that we may be backing ourselves into a corner because this land can't be sold."

The property has been open to the public while it was owned by MeadWestvaco and the Conservancy leaders say they are working to continue this public access for hunting, fishing and hiking.

The group is working on a management agreement with the Ohio Division of Wildlife and hope to open the area to hunting by this spring.

The Conservancy reports that it has the support of the Ohio Department of Natural Resources, the Lawrence County Chapter of the Ohio Horseman's Council, and the National Wild Turkey Federation.

The Ohio chapter has protected more than 30,500 acres of Ohio's wetland, forest and prairies through ownership, management or project assistance.

The Ohio chapter owns and manages 35 preserves totaling more than 18,000 acres throughout Ohio. Visit us on the Web at