VGIF Manager Explains Why Swimming No Longer Allowed At Bullpaster Gorge
Williamsville, VA – In recent weeks, questions have come from several Highland county residents regarding the Bullpasture Gorge property owned and administered by the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries. A popular swimming spot for generations, the area of the gorge near the parking lot and swinging bridge just north of Williamsville has recently seen enforcement activities by the Game Department. A rope swing and wooden platform have been removed.
Members of the public have asked why swimming is not permitted at this site. With all the state and federal government owned land in Highland county, there is understandable confusion among members of the public about the differing regulations governing the use of state wildlife management areas and the national forest. Jay Jeffreys, Region Four Manager for the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries, talks about the Bullpasture Gorge and its approved uses.
“Game department lands, whether in Highland County or across the state, are purchased with monies through grants provided through the US Fish and Wildlife Service” says Jeffreys. “The primary purpose for this ownership is for wildlife habitat conservation. Secondary to this we do allow non-conflicting uses on these lands such as hunting and fishing.”
The Game Department has owned this part of the Bullpasture Gorge since the 1960’s and now owns and manages just over 14,000 acres on Bullpasture and Jack Mountains. Recreational uses such as swimming can conflict with those wildlife habitat management goals.
At one time rough camping was allowed in the Bullpasture Gorge, but overuse causing unsanitary conditions and damage to the habitat required that camping be stopped in this area. Mr. Jeffreys goes on to discuss potential conflicting uses of this property.
“Certain activities such as wading or swimming at certain areas like the Bullpasture Gorge, have occurred on the Highland WMA” he says. “As time has gone by we have had increasing demand for a wide variety of recreational activity.”
“Also our fishing recreation has increased as well. One of the recent developments in just the last couple of years has been that we have gotten complaints from fishermen who are going to sites like the Bullpasture Gorge and finding themselves unable to fish due to the heavy traffic from people swimming and wading.”
Mr. Jeffreys suggests that there are some allowed recreational uses of this land and compares the wildlife management land to national forests.
“We also allow and encourage related outdoor recreation provided it doesn’t impact the natural resources on these lands” says Jeffreys. “National Forest lands have a much broader mission and a much broader multiple use position than the game department does with our lands.”
This difference can be seen at Lake Moomaw and the Blowing Springs campground on national forest land in Bath County, where recreational camping is encouraged. Jeffreys says they have a very limited staff to enforce regulations in the Highland WMA. Currently only one Conservation officer, Beth Harold, covers the area. And she can be called out to help in any part of an eleven county region.
“You don’t have one officer dedicated to Highland County full time, much less 24 hours a day” he says.