When the Mon Forest Town signs went up about three weeks ago, the plan was to have a ribbon-cutting and a cover story in The Pocahontas Times. However, other issues got in the way and that has not happened. Meanwhile, I hear questions about the signs and have been asked, “What is The Mon Forest Towns Partnership (MFTP)?”

This week, I will answer that question with the description, as written by Talia Schwelling, North Zone Resource Assistant, with the U. S. Forest Service.

The Mon Forest Towns Partnership (MFTP) is a collaborative, regional effort between 10 communities throughout the Monongahela National Forest and is supported by the US Forest Service (USFS), USDA Rural Development (USDA RD), and West Virginia University (WVU). The vision was to connect communities to each other, to the Forest, and to our natural resources to generate positive and tangible outcomes that will improve quality of life and vitality of this region. Through relationship-building, community engagement, and resource sharing, the partnership aims to foster a sustainable recreation economy across the Mon Forest region.

The MFTP has worked and will be working with the WV Community Development Hub in several of the MFTP communities: Cowen, Elkins, Franklin, Marlinton, Petersburg, Parsons, Richwood and White Sulphur Springs. Thomas and Davis are also a part of the larger regional partnership. After three years of hard work and dedication, the MFTP signed a Memorandum of Understanding and became an official partnership earlier this year.

As a young initiative, the MFTP hit the ground running and has a lot of exciting things happening now and in the future. Here are just a few projects in the works now:

1. New town welcome signs. Each community has worked closely with WVU graphic design partners to customize a Mon Forest Towns welcome sign for their town. The welcome signs have icons with town amenities and three embedded circles that represent each town’s unique spirit.

2. New wayfinding signage and interpretive materials. To guide visitors to community resources and forest recreation opportunities as well as promote the partnership. Mon Forest Towns is working with WVU graphic designers to create branded signage. Kiosks, maps, brochures, interpretive signage and wayfinding signage are being designed and prepped for printing this fall.

3. New collaborative marketing campaign. We want to spread awareness about Mon Forest Towns, and what better way than fun and informative merchandise? We are working on creating stickers, buttons, window clings and rack cards to get the word out.

4. New public and green spaces. Towns are working directly with the Landscape Architecture program at WVU to create vibrant community spaces that cater to both locals and tourists. Marlinton’s Discovery Junction is a great example of a community effort to transform a vacant lot into a downtown rallying point for the community and its visitors, we hope to see more projects like this in the future.

5. New online presence. Web development and GIS specialists from WVU have created a beautiful online space for the partnership that includes a forest-wide asset map, town features and blog space for storytelling. The asset map allows locals and visitors alike the freedom to discover opportunities across the forest in our ten communities and beyond. This site will go live fall 2020.

6. New plans for trails. We have secured funding for IMBA Trail Solutions to work with Mon Forest Towns, Snowshoe Highlands Ride Center working group, and the Town of Marlinton to develop a detailed plan for purpose-built mountain bike trails that will propel the economy of Pocahontas County.

7. Support for small businesses. Mon Forest Towns is fortunate to collaborate closely with Woodlands Development Group. Woodlands has served a myriad of small businesses with grants, loans, and technical assistance and has been a crucial partner as we navigate through the impacts of COVID-19. To find more information about Mon Forest Towns and how our initiative is growing, be on the lookout for our website that will go live this fall.

Information provided by Talia Schwelling, North Zone Resource Assistant, with the U. S. Forest Service.