Access gates to Sleepy Creek WMA will stay closed for 2022 season, and into next year

by Kate Shunney Bright red gates across access roads into various parts of Sleepy Creek Wildlife Management Area will stay closed for the rest of 2022, including the upcoming hunting seasons. DNR officials last week confirmed local rumors that have been circulating about whether the gates would open for fall hunters. During previous years, gates were opened during fall and spring seasons to allow vehicle access for hunters to wildlife areas on the 22,988-acre, state-owned property that stretches from Morgan into Berkeley counties. Access gates across single-track roads into Sleepy Creek Wildlife Management Area will stay closed for 2022 and into 2023. That won’t be the case this hunting season, said Chelsey Faller, DNR Wildlife Biologist for District 2 in Romney. Faller said DNR administrators made visits to Sleepy Creek last spring. Afterwards, they agreed the access roads need “a lot of maintenance.” There is also work to be done in areas where ATVs and other vehicles have caused severe rutting and have driven through wildlife clearings meant to provide habitat to different species. Roads that were created or used heavily to take timber harvests off Sleepy Creek and Third Hill Mountain – like the one at White’s Gap – also need to be stabilized by letting vegetation grow on them, said Faller. That can’t happen if vehicles are driving over them regularly. “So this year all gated roads are going to stay locked,” she said. By next fall, the DNR hopes to have a “good road” on top of Sleepy Creek Mountain, depending on state funding and the timing of road maintenance. Faller said keeping the gates locked will also mean vehicles aren’t driving through areas disturbing wildlife where hunters are in the woods this fall. Faller said the DNR is currently updating their maps of Sleepy Creek WMA to show where passable roads exist and where the gates will block or allow vehicle access. The wildlife management area is always open to those on foot. Sleepy Creek WMA isn’t the only wildlife management area that will see a change in access this year. Faller said gates and roads are managed by the state differently in different areas, based on their objectives. In some places, new habitat plots have been created or forests have been timbered to attract certain species of wildlife, and road use can change based on those activities. Faller pointed out that the wildlife management areas were purchased with public funds and fees on gun and ammunition sales, for the sole purpose of managing wildlife habitats and protecting certain areas for them to thrive. Sleepy Creek is known as the Eastern Panhandle’s largest public hunting and fishing area. Local hunters say gated roads into Sleepy Creek offer them, in some cases, the only viable way to reach hunting areas, or to haul out game during the hunting seasons. Some say as they get older, reaching the top of Sleepy Creek to hunt is only possible if they can drive to the top of the mountain. Access gates to Sleepy Creek Wildlife Management Area are numerous – located on White’s Gap Road, along Shanghai and Hampshire Grade Road and at Berkeley County access points at Brush Creek and near the WMA office in Back Creek Valley. The gravel road that leads to Sleepy Creek Lake and the campground there will remain open year-round, said the DNR.