Love public lands? You’d better visit them

Everybody likes an “Atta Boy.” And after three years of SCA service projects in the Allegheny National Forest, District Ranger Rob Fallon gave the SCA a tremendous “Atta Boy” last week. “We signed a $1.2 million contract with the SCA (3 years ago). And the work crews like you have done is worth many, many multimillions of dollars.” Fallon was speaking to a crew of SCA leaders that had finished a 50 foot rock retaining wall at Tracy Ridge, ANF’s most popular day-use recreation site. “In fact,” Fallon said, “there is no way we could have done in three years what you just did in 3 weeks.” Fallon noted that the amount of effort it would take to study the site, process the findings, buy materials, hire quality stone masons, ensure safety measures were in place, and actually do the work would have been a logistical nightmare at the steeply graded and popular overlook. Fallon continued to say that, more than likely, a project like the rock wall, “Would have never gotten done,” if not for the SCA.

He also gave other leaders and me some incredible insight on our new backyard, the Allegheny Plateau. Black Cherry trees are the world’s, that’s right the world’s, most monetarily valuable tree. And the world’s highest concentration of Black Cherry trees is in this national forest. Below the tree roots lie North America’s most valuable concentration of oil. Below the oil beds is the Marcellus Shale, the world’s most valuable deposit of natural gas. Because the national forest only owns the surface land rights, and private oil and gas companies own the mineral rights, and because that ownership trumps surface rights, oil and gas companies can do whatever it takes to extract those minerals. This includes building roads, digging wells, and leaving their unused equipment in the national forest. Add the presence of lumber companies, and there is unusually high truck traffic in this area.

Fallon, and other ANF land managers are also very concerned with recreation, and he keeps a close eye on the number of visitors to the fishing holes, campgrounds and hiking trails in this national forest. He told us that the number of visitors to the recreation sites directly determines the amount of money allotted to maintain the facilities. If visitors stop coming, the facilities will get less money and eventually may have to close. Conversely, if ANF facilities get an enormous influx of visitors, more money will be allocated for recreation and more trails, fishing holes, and campgrounds could open. I was impressed by the record keeping, and comforted by their attention to recreation, which, quite frankly, is why I do this type of work.