CLARKSBURG, W.Va. – The Appalachian Trail Conservancy, The Conservation Fund and Mountain Valley Pipeline, LLC have announced a conservation stewardship agreement that will advance the conservancy’s work to manage and protect the Appalachian National Scenic Trail.
According to a press release, the agreement will also help the fund secure additional conservation lands for public use and enhance trail-related community economic development. As part of the agreement, Mountain Valley has committed up to $19.5 million for use by the conservancy to conserve land along the trail corridor and support outdoor recreation-based economies in Virginia and West Virginia.
“Ensuring that lands around the Appalachian Trail are conserved and connected is not only essential to protecting the most famous hiking trail in the world but also critical to preserving a wide variety of additional values,” said Laura Belleville, ATC’s vice president of conservation and trail programs. “Whether it’s conserving high-priority climate-resilient lands or safeguarding iconic vistas from the Trail, this agreement will greatly advance the pace and scale of the Appalachian Trail Conservancy’s mission-critical landscape conservation work. Protection of critical lands in Virginia and West Virginia will also help local recreation-based economies who rely on these lands to sustain a host of outdoor recreation activities.”
Mountain Valley’s commitment is the largest funding package in the conservancy’s history to advance conservation efforts in a single geography, the release states. The funds are intended to benefit trail users and communities in the region, conserve land with significant natural resource values, including climate resiliency, and support the outdoor recreation economies of local communities. The conservancy, working with the fund, will use Mountain Valley’s funding to secure a net conservation gain to the trail, as well as to benefit the public natural resources of the region near the trail, including the Jefferson National Forest.
“One of MVP’s primary objectives is the preservation and protection of our cultural, historical, and environmental resources and we are very pleased to be working with these two outstanding organizations,” said Diana Charletta, president and chief operating officer, EQM Midstream Partners, operator of MVP. “We understand the sensitivities that surround the blending of large-scale infrastructure projects with environmental protection and we recognize the importance of continuing to develop major energy projects in a responsible manner.
“The Conservancy’s mission to protect, manage, and advocate for the Appalachian National Scenic Trail aligns with MVP’s desire to identify sustainable solutions that address MVP’s potential impacts and enhance conservation efforts in the region for the future. The Appalachian Trail is a national treasure and, by working together, we will provide beneficial outcomes for the region, the environment, and our communities. This agreement demonstrates that the country can continue to meet its energy needs while also providing a net benefit to the Appalachian Trail,” Charletta continued.
More than a year ago, Mountain Valley initiated outreach to the conservancy and the fund, and numerous other conservation stakeholders, seeking assistance to identify and develop sustainability efforts that would complement MVP’s infrastructure project, according to the release. The conservancy raised concerns about potential impacts from the project and accepted Mountain Valley’s invitation to identify solutions. The outcome of these discussions empowers the conservancy to acquire high-priority lands near the trail in Virginia and West Virginia. These tracts will enhance the trail hiker experience and protect views from numerous vantage points. Other protected tracts will create buffers for designated wilderness areas and safeguard climate resilient habitats.
“We are pleased to support the Appalachian Trail Conservancy’s efforts to protect key lands along the Trail to enhance outdoor access and support the recreation-based economies of nearby communities,” said Heather Richards, Virginia state director for The Conservation Fund. “We thank Mountain Valley Pipeline for its voluntary stewardship, which will advance important conservation efforts in Virginia and West Virginia.”
In addition, the agreement adds trail-related benefits to the array of environmental commitments Mountain Valley will implement under federal and state permits, the release explains. There is no relationship between this voluntary agreement and the various federal or state permitting decisions, and Mountain Valley will continue working directly with the agencies to fully address their concerns related to the places, resources and public values for which they are responsible. Similarly, the conservancy will continue to engage in the federal permitting process, as it has previously done.
In light of controversies related to natural gas infrastructure projects, the agreement among Mountain Valley, the conservancy and the fund will result in thousands of acres protected in perpetuity, an enhanced trail experience and support for communities in Virginia and West Virginia, according to the release.