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Protecting Our Original Wild Gardens
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by Irene Muffly, President of the Monongahela Garden Club | 2007

This Op-Ed piece appeared in the Dominion Post September 15, 2007

For more than 80 years Garden Clubs have been a leading voice speaking out for the protection of America’s wilderness areas.That might surprise you, since the usual image of garden clubbers is that we are focused entirely on digging and planting in our gardens. Gardens, after all, are highly artificial places where we establish all kinds of plants that may or may not have any connection to the original, natural flora of the places we live.

We love our gardens because we love nature’s beauty. We appreciate this splendor whether it is in our gardens, or deep in a West Virginia forest. Gardens bring a bit of nature’s beauty to our doorstep. Our gardens remind us that just like we have cultivated our gardens to portray beauty as we behold it, a wilderness area is cultivated by nature (god?) to be the most beautiful garden of all. This is plain to anyone who has ever visited Dolly Sods, or CranberryWilderness Areas.

My fellow garden clubbers and I certainly love tending to our plots. But we have a broader perspective, and we see a direct and vital connection between the plants we nurture in our gardens and the most natural and most wild parts of the larger landscape within which we live.

Wilderness! There’s a word that excites the soul and ignites the imagination. These wildest natural areas offer far more than just natural beauty. They offer the opportunity for high quality outdoor recreation experiences we can find nowhere else. Here we can get away from all the technology that defines our modern lives, and relive in a real way the experiences of earlier generations of West Virginians.

Thank heavens we have the Monongahela National Forest, our treasured public lands where we can have a thriving timber industry, lots of developed camping and picnicking areas, we can manage it for game and non-game wildlife, and even for motorized recreation. But also, in a few selected, special, parts of our national forest we can preserve wilderness.

Preserving wilderness is an important part of the Garden Club of America’s commitment to “restore, improve, and protect the quality of the environment through educational programs and action in the fields of conservation and civic improvement.” Like our national organization, our West Virginia Garden Club’s mission is broad and focused on our whole environment. Our mission commits us to help “preserve natural resources through protection of wildflowers, birds, forests, streams, scenic areas, historical and recreational localities,” and to “encourage civic beauty, stimulate roadside improvement, and discourage unsightly objects along the highways.”

In 1964 the United States Congress made conservation history by enacting the Wilderness Act. This law is widely recognized as one of this nation’s most important conservation achievements—and one the Garden Club of America supported from the outset. A great part of its appeal is that it is so reasonable: it says that we preserve wilderness areas on the federal lands we already own, and that the decision to protect any new wilderness area can be made only by a new act of Congress. So it is our elected representatives who make these decisions, with those from the state affected given the primary voice in those decisions.

In a letter to the U. S. Senate in 1957, the Garden Club of America made what we feel is the fundamental point in support of preserving our wilderness areas, writing of our “hope that our grandchildren and generations to come will be able to know that a section of our inheritance has been preserved for them.

Today, the Monongahela Garden Club in Morgantown is carrying on in that proud tradition. To ensure that the people of this wild and wonderful state will always be able to enjoy the beauty of our precious Monongahela National Forest, we support adding some of the Mon’s most special wild places – Seneca Creek, East Fork of the Greenbrier, Spice Run, Roaring Plains and the Dolly Sods Expansion – to the National Wilderness Preservation System. Only this way, can we be assured that those who come after us will forever be able to hike through the Forest’s stands of red spruce and mountain ash, stopping to snack on blueberries or huckleberries, witness the glorious magentas, pinks and purples of spring rhododendron, and revel in the Mon’s blazing foliage each fall.

Yes, the Monongahela National Forest is West Virginia’s premier garden. It manifests everything that is Wild and Wonderful about our state.

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