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City of Charleston discusses nature preserve ownership

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- A proposal to move the Wallace Hartman Nature Preserve completely into Charleston city limits and give the city ownership could allow the preserve to be more visitor friendly, the West Virginia Land Trust suggests.

The 52-acre preserve is owned by the Kanawha County Parks and Recreation Commission, but is already partially located in city limits, just off South Ruffner Road, not far from residential developments in South Hills. A recent annexation by the city placed even more of the preserve behind city lines.

"Half of it's in, half of it's out," Charleston Planning Director Dan Vriendt said at the Charleston Land Trust meeting Monday night.

Under the current setup, the county parks department owns the preserve, and the West Virginia Land Trust is responsible for protecting the conservation easement and permitted uses of the land, said Terrell Ellis, a consultant representing the West Virginia Land Trust.

"From our perspective, having it transferred into city ownership would be a real plus," she said.

Ellis said the county hasn't been proactive about maintaining the preserve, which was donated to the parks commission in 2002 by Dolly Hartman in memory of her parents.

"We want to find a home for this place, somebody that cares for it," she said.

If the nature preserve is transferred to the city, Charleston needs to annex the entire preserve to avoid spending funds on property located outside its borders. Visitors to the park already travel in city limits to reach the land.

"It's only really accessible from the city," Vriendt said.

Tom Lane, a Charleston councilman who sits on the Charleston Land Trust's board, said the possibility of transferring the nature preserve to the city has been discussed in the past. He said the preserve "fits squarely" with the mission of the Charleston Land Trust.

"I don't see a problem with any of that," he said. "Part of the key is having a group that's really interested."

The transfer in ownership would allow the city and the Charleston Land Trust to assist in administering the nature preserve. Ellis said accessibility to the preserve could be improved, as could trails and interpretive facilities.

"Dolly's dream for that land was for it to be a very publicly-accessible nature preserve," she said. "It hasn't really been on (the parks commission's) priority list."

Ellis said the West Virginia Land Trust has two different grants for the preserve. One is from the Greater Kanawha Valley Foundation to create a management plan for the park, and the other is a trails grant from the state of West Virginia to improve the trail system.

"It's got to start with a partner and owner who's interested in the land, and we don't have that now," Ellis said.

No formal agreement has been made to transfer the land from the county to the city. In order for the city to annex the property, an ordinance would have to be drawn up that would need to be introduced in council, pass through a citizen committee and a council committee and then be sent back to council for a final vote.

Contact writer Matt Murphy at Matt.Murphy@dailymail.com or 304-348-4817.


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