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City considering acquiring nature preserve

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- The city of Charleston could be welcoming a new ecological gem should it acquire the Wallace-Hartman Nature Preserve.Members of the Charleston Land Trust on Monday discussed the possibility of having complete ownership of the property, which might bring the land to its intended use."Dolly's dream for that land was for it to be a very publicly accessible nature preserve, where there could be education and interpretation of the ecology on the site," said Terrell Ellis of the West Virginia Land Trust.Dolly Hartman and her four children had donated the 52 acres because they "wanted to keep it green," Hartman told the Gazette in 2011.  The preserve, located off South Ruffner Road in the South Hills area, was donated to the Kanawha County Parks and Recreation Commission in 2002, as well as a conservation easement that was granted to the West Virginia Land Trust.Part of the preserve was annexed to the city as a result of the Wallace Point housing development, which makes ownership between the county and city about 50/50, Ellis said.Both entities have discussed and expressed interest in exchanging ownership in the past, according to Kanawha County Parks and Recreation Director Jeff Hutchinson."Having that preserve fits squarely into the mission of the Charleston Land Trust," said member Tom Lane. "At this juncture I'm not sure how difficult it would be if we simply annexed it."The WVLT has received a few small grants over the years for signage and parking, but not much has happened since then, Ellis said."They haven't really been able to invest in doing as much with the property as I think we all had hoped," Ellis said.
Hutchinson agreed, and said the commission doesn't have the resources to make the preserve into the ecological star it could be."It's not that the parks commission doesn't care about the property," Hutchinson said. "We have very few employees, and we don't have a lot of money."Resources are also an issue for the Charleston Land Trust, Lane said."Part of the key is having a group that's really interested," Lane said of the financial feasibility of taking on the preserve.The state of the preserve has proven to be a challenge to address, Ellis said. With diseased hemlocks, overgrown grapevines and storm-damaged trees, the health of the forest is in jeopardy, Ellis said.
"With [KCPR] approval, we went ahead and got funding for that," Ellis said.Trail management and wetland preservation are also a top priority for the WVLT, Ellis said.But the KCPRC doesn't have the capacity or funds to address those issues, Hutchinson said."We are a recreation department. We maintain and operate recreational facilities," Hutchinson said. "It's totally different than anything else we do."Reach Rachel Molenda at or 304-348-5102.
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