Forest Plan and Principles
The forest comprises more than 29 percent of the land in Augusta County and provides drinking water to 20,124 residents in the county and Staunton. The U.S. Forest Service released the final management plan for the George Washington National Forest November 18, 2014, which will guide activities on 1.1 million acres of public lands for the next 15 years. The GWNF Management Plan represents the second largest guide to land use in Augusta, after our own county Comprehensive Plan.
The GWNF harbors many natural and cultural resources often not available or protected on private lands, including clean water for fishing and drinking, wildlife habitat for game and non-game species, maturing native forests, backcountry recreation, scenic views and much more. In fact, the original lands for the GWNF were acquired primarily to restore and maintain healthy watersheds.
In the past, the U.S. Forest Service has focused on logging and road building more than on other conservation values. Area residents increasingly place greater emphasis on preserving our public lands for outdoor activities, such as nature tourism and wilderness recreation, and to protect important natural resources, such as water quality, wilderness and rare plant and animal communities.
The Shenandoah Valley Network joins Virginia Forest Watch, Virginia Wilderness Committee, Wild Virginia, Heartwood, Sierra Club, Southern Appalachian Forest Coalition, Southern Environmental Law Center, and Wildlaw in endorsing the following principles for a common-sense approach to protecting our national forest.
- Ensure that all watersheds, sources of clean water and native brook trout streams are fully protected. Key water resources in the GWNF in Augusta County include the Staunton Reservoir, which serves the city and Augusta County, and the Coles Run Reservoir, which serves Augusta County’s South River District. The GWNF also contains the headwaters of many streams and rivers, including North River. There are 131.7 miles of trout streams on the GWNF in Augusta County.
- Fully protect all “inventoried” roadless areas, as petitioned by the Governor of Virginia. Identify and fully protect all other remaining roadless tracts. There are 68,203 acres of roadless areas on the GWNF in Augusta County, including Little River, Crawford Mountain, Elliott Knob, Jerkemtight, Kelley Mountain, Ramsey’s Draft Addition and St. Mary’s Addition.
- Emphasize backcountry recreation such as hiking, camping, bird-watching, horseback riding, mountain biking, hunting and fishing. There are six developed recreation sites in the GWNF in Augusta County, including Sherando Lake and North River, eight areas of special historic or other interest, including the Wild Oak National Recreation Trail, Mt. Torry Furnace, the Confederate Breastworks and the Hite Hollow Rifle Range, and 221 miles of hiking and/or riding trails. The Great Eastern Trail Corridor, a multi-use trail for hikers, cyclists and horses from New York to Florida, will also pass through the GWNF in Augusta County.
- Fully protect all areas recommended by the Virginia Division of Natural Heritage for designation as Special Biological Areas. There are eight of these areas totaling 20,499 acres of special biological interest in the GWNF in Augusta County: part of Shenandoah Mountain Crest, Big Levels, Clayton Mill Spring, Elliott Knob, Loves Run Ponds, Maple Flats Sinkhole Ponds, Pines Chapel Ponds and Ruben’s Draft Shale Barren. Also of interest is the Little River Special Management Area.
- Fully protect all rare, threatened and endangered species listed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Virginia Division of Natural Heritage.
- Identify and recommend all areas that qualify for Wilderness Study Area and Wild and Scenic River designation. There are two wilderness areas in the GWNF in Augusta County, Ramsey’s Draft and St. Mary’s. Candidates for wilderness designation in the GWNF in Augusta County include part of the Little River Roadless Area, Benson Run and additional acreage at Ramsey’s Draft.
- Fully protect all areas identified in “Virginia’s Mountain Treasures: The Unprotected Wildlands of the George Washington National Forest.” These areas provide the last, best places for outstanding recreation in the backcountry, and intact habitat for migratory songbirds, black bear and other wildlife. Jerkemtight/Benson Run and the Little River Roadless Area are identified as Mountain Treasures on the GWNF in Augusta County.