It’s been two years since the Friends of Shenandoah Mountain coalition approached the Rockingham County Board of Supervisors with a request to support a congressional designation for the 73-mile long ridge.
The wait paid off.
On Tuesday, Harrisonburg City Council joined county officials in passing a resolution of support for congressional designation of the Shenandoah Mountain National Scenic Area.
According to the Friends of Shenandoah Mountain’s website, the scenic area designation will protect the “scenic beauty and outstanding outdoor recreation opportunities that residents and visitors to the area enjoy.”
Though the proposal has to be approved by Congress before an official designation is announced, Rockingham County District 4 Supervisor Bill Kyger said it meant the area will get an “extra layer of protection” against tree logging, hydrofracking or other developments that could cause harm.
“By placing it into a scenic area, it reduces the opportunity for certain things that may happen, like fracking,” Kyger said.
Located in the George Washington National Forest, Shenandoah Mountain is home to one of the largest tracts of wild land left in the eastern United States, according to the Virginia Wilderness Committee.
The scenic area designation will encompass nearly 90,000 acres on Shenandoah Mountain between U.S. 33 and U.S. 250, as well as four embedded wilderness areas — Skidmore Fork, Little River, Lynn Hollow and Bald Ridge.
Nearly one third of the designation is within Rockingham County.
The “extra layer of protection,” as Kyger described, will directly impact county and Harrisonburg residents when it comes to the drinking water supply.
The Skidmore Fork Wilderness area spans more than 5,200 acres in Rockingham County and includes the watershed for Switzer Reservoir, which provides the strongest protection for critical water resources for city and county residents, according to the approved resolution.
The area also includes the watershed for Switzer Dam, which supplies drinking water for Bridgewater, Harrisonburg and parts of Rockingham County.
“That’s pretty big,” Kyger said.
The approved resolution for the national scenic area designation will also protect Dry River, Gum Run, Blacks Run, Skidmore Fork, Hone Quarry Run and Briery Branch streams — all of which are home to native brook trout.
When Rockingham County Supervisors reviewed the proposed resolution, Kyger said it was important that visitors wouldn’t see any restrictions when it came to forest use.
The approved resolution stated the board supports outdoor recreational activities in the George Washington National Forest, such as hunting, fishing, camping, hiking, mountain biking, scenic driving, nature study, rock climbing and horseback riding.
“It will remain a land of many uses,” Kyger said.
Trails will be maintained and new trails will be constructed by volunteer groups or the George Washington National Forest, according to the resolution.