Commission Appears to be on the Verge of Agreement with WV DNR For Handley Property
Ever since the West Virginia Department of Natural Resources informed the Pocahontas County Commission that it is closing the 784-acre Handley Wildlife Management Area, the commissioners have been exploring ways for the county to obtain and manage part of that popular recreation area.
During a commission work session on March 22nd, Commission President Walt Helmick said that the state DNR had offered to let the county lease and manage about 20 acres of that property, including the camping and lake area, which has been an important destination by county residents. Helmick said that the state bought the Handley property, which is located along Route 17 near the headwaters of the Williams River, in 1959, and created the Handley Wildlife Management Area. Since then, the DNR has invested millions of dollars into it, developing an RV camping area with 12 or 13 sites, and stocking and maintaining the 5-acre Handley Lake. They also built restroom facilities and a drinking water system there.
Helmick said he was very interested in preserving this recreational facility for the use of county residents and tourists. The area has been used extensively by campers, fishermen, and hunters.
Lauren Bennett of the Pocahontas County Parks and Recreation had told the commissioners at an earlier meeting that they would likely be interested in operating and maintaining the 20 acres if the commission leases it, however at this work session, Commissioner John Rebinski said he had been told that the Parks and Recreation Board felt they did not have the work force to do that. Helmick said even if Parks and Recreation can’t handle it, he could find a committee from among some of the regular users of the camping area to run and maintain it.
The commission held another work session about this on March 28th, which was attended by 8 citizens who have been regularly camping and using the facilities at Handley. Helmick produced a formal lease agreement from the WV DNR which would allow the county to lease the 20-acre portion on the Handley Wildlife Management Area which contains the camping area, picnic area, restrooms, lake access and water system for $1.00 a year for an initial period of 5 years. The lease would allow the mutual right to renew the lease after that. It would allow the county to charge fees to users, cut trees as necessary, and make improvements as needed. The state has also continued to list a fish stocking schedule for the lake.
Helmick has said the county would like to put fresh stone on the roads, install picnic tables, including a couple of handicap tables, improve the RV sites, possibly adding additional sites, add fire rings and possibly a playground with swings and slides. Many of the 8 regular users of the area who were present indicated they would be willing to operate and maintain the property if Parks and Recreation cannot.
Although formal motions for approval cannot be made at work sessions, the commissioners all seemed in favor of this lease. They said they will place it on the next meeting agenda for formal action. Commissioner Rebinski said that the Parks and Recreation Board will give the commission a written reply as to whether they can or cannot maintain and manage the property after they discuss it at their next board meeting. He said the commission also needs to obtain estimates of the cost of developing the campsites and of the playground equipment before their next meeting on Tuesday, April 4th.
We will be going out to the site in the next week or so to take photos of the area and will post those with this story on our website, alleghenymountainradio.org.