The local historical and political magnitude of the ongoing battle for Haymaker Forest is probably still too little understood. It began in the summer of 2015 when a local resident found a map on the edge of the woods dropped by a land surveyor. The engineering map depicted a massive new development located mostly in the county but also in the city that was designed to stretch from Dorsey Avenue at the boundary of Morgantown’s 1st Ward, running along a thruway with multiple spokes past the entire top of Morgantown’s 2nd Ward, over to Morgantown’s 6th Ward, with the thruway exiting in the city on Buckhannon Avenue where upper South Park neighborhood meets South Hills neighborhood, not far from Southpoint Circle neighborhood. Again, this was summer 2015, three full years ago.
As far as is known, everyone in the surrounding neighborhoods was appalled. Appalled that the impending development was discovered accidentally with no public notification, appalled at the consequence of a major influx of pollution and new traffic on substandard roads in long-established neighborhoods, appalled at the impending destruction of the forest, its ecology, environment, and wildlife. Almost immediately, a tri-neighborhood committee was formed consisting of neighborhood officials and residents. Within a few months, the committee drafted a tri-neighborhood position paper soon presented in October 2015 to Morgantown City Council and to Monongalia County Commission calling for the “public purchase and stewardship of as much of [Haymaker Forest] as possible.”
Prior to being presented to City Council, three Neighborhood Association Presidents signed the Position Paper, and two attended the City Council presentation: Bill Wasson, President of Southpoint Circle Neighborhood Association, and Paul Steel, President of South Park Neighborhood Association. The third President, Dave Harshbarger of South Hills Neighborhood Association could not attend and eventually appeared at a subsequent City Council meeting where he appealed to the Council to preserve Haymaker Forest.
The three neighborhoods’ Position Paper of 2015 noted that longstanding city planning bore directly on the matter, in many ways:
“In firm alignment with the vision and blueprint of Morgantown’s Comprehensive Plan, these several city neighborhoods are committed to protecting and promoting: 1) the local ecology, its environment, wildlife, woods, and green space; 2) the safety and quality of life of the local neighborhoods; 3) and the overall well-being of the city and county. /// The development project would grossly impact adjacent neighborhoods and the city as a whole. We are committed to maintaining and improving city livability: by minimizing neighborhood through traffic, by maximizing safety and walkability, by preserving the environment, by protecting wildlife, by providing open space for healthy exercise and enjoyment, by boosting social and economic well-being in alignment with Morgantown’s vision and blueprint. Such commitment has the potential to raise the bar for maintaining and improving quality of life in both longstanding neighborhoods and in new areas of the city.”
It soon became increasingly well understood that while the land remained privately held, by all appearances it had been abandoned by its owners. Haymaker Forest had long since been outfitted with complex trails and had long since become a community park, a community forest, of the residents of the multiple surrounding city neighborhoods and city wards and nearby urban county pockets. In fact, nearly half of the city wards, 3 of the 7, border or contain Haymaker Forest to a significant degree, as do the homes of nearby county residents. People from all these neighborhoods had been using the forest as a community park for decades.
Despite the public appeals (both formal and informal of the three city neighborhoods and other residents) to protect this cross-border forest in accord with popular concerns and quality of life values large and larger – and very much in accord with the highly detailed land management and conservation maps in both the City and County Comprehensive Plans – nothing was attempted by the County, and the efforts and achievements of the City were limited, at first, to protect Haymaker Forest. Until things changed. Remarkably, after the multiple communities’ self-generated initial strong efforts in the summer/fall of 2015, the public managed a series of impressive achievements over the course of the next two and half years, with three major turning points: the first in the spring/summer of 2016, and then again in 2017, and finally another huge push in 2018 during recent months. These further historical moments will be detailed in a subsequent post, to bring the long road and the ongoing history of the battle for Haymaker Forest to its current point.