by Kate Shunney
West Virginia Department of Natural Resources (DNR) officials temporarily closed access to Sleepy Creek Wildlife Management Area to contain and patrol a mountain fire two weeks ago, but the public is now able to access the 22,000-acre public hunting and fishing area.
DNR officials are reminding people that vehicle access to the wildlife area is only al- lowed on roadways to the fishing lake, dam and camp- ing sites.
Gates along the edges of Sleepy Creek WMA are closed because there are no active hunting seasons open. Those red gates are opened during official West Virginia hunting seasons to allow hunters to retrieve game.
Four-wheelers, dirt bikes, off-road vehicles and other recreational vehicles are not permitted on West Virginia wildlife management areas.
“We close all gates every- where after the hunting sea- son for several reasons, but the biggest is wildlife conservation. WMA lands were purchased with money set aside by the federal government for wildlife conservation, particularly game species.
“Human disturbance results in flight behaviors for most wildlife species. This is particularly problematic during the spring and summer, when animals are rearing young and storing away energy for the next winter,” said DNR spokesman Andy Malinowski. “All WMAs are always open to foot traffic. When gates are closed all other forms of access, including mountain bikes, horses, ATVs and all other vehicles, is illegal.”
DNR officials will boost patrol of Sleepy Creek WMA for four-wheeler and dirt bike activity, since they have been alerted to unauthorized traffic on the closed areas.
Red gates stand at road access points to Sleepy Creek Wildlife Management Area.
Class III designation (including commercial property) rose by a significant 19.5%, topping out at $102,998,315 in 2022, up from $86.2 million last year.
The Morgan County Commission, Board of Education and each of the county’s municipal governments set their tax (levy) rates this time of year. That rate is multiplied by the assessed value of real estate and personal property in the county to calculate tax bills received by property owners in the summer.
“A current situation exists with people driving around closed gates. W e have had ‘foot traffic only’ signs torn away, and even had gates themselves torn out,” Malinowski told The Morgan Messenger.
“The WV DNR will continue to add and replace signage and encourages the public to follow usage guidelines and not drive around closed gates to protect wildlife and assist in conservation and restoration of these areas.”
“The WV DNR is installing more gates on roads that have been left open, adding signs to increase pub- lic awareness, and enforce existing road closures with surveillance systems and law enforcement resources. These are all in an effort to encourage habitat improvements to benefit a wider array of species are also ongoing,” DNR officials said.
Fire crews used a steep dirt road at White’s Gap to reach and contain last month’ s mountain fire. The roadway had recently been reconfigured to handle logging trucks for timbering work on the mountain there. Hunters use that access road to reach sites during open seasons, and the public has become accustomed to getting onto the Wildlife Management Area there in their vehicles.
Malinowski said that road access will be restricted again except during hunting seasons.
“Some WMA roads are open for use during certain hunting seasons. At these times anyone can use them, in any vehicle. Roads where the gates are closed are foot traffic only. Some roads are closed year-round. Often the roads where gates are always shut year-round are emergency or maintenance access routes that cross sensitive habitats (wetlands especially), are built on easily eroded soils, or are locations where we cannot easily and economically provide maintenance that would be necessary were they open when the other roads are,” said Malinowski.
Anyone who sees unauthorized vehicles on the wildlife management area can report that activity via 911 or by calling the DNR Law Enforcement office in Romney at 304-822-3551. Because of the size of Sleepy Creek, callers are asked to provide location information when reporting the activity.