WHEELING, W.Va. — The West Virginia Land Trust, a statewide conservation organization, will protect two Ohio River islands, turning them into nature preserves and venues for recreation.
The properties, Upper Twin Island in Ohio County and Gallipolis Island in Mason County, were donated to the trust by private landowner Michael Hoeft. The organization views them as essential habitats for fish and other wildlife, and according to Jessica Spatafore, development and communications director for the trust, the islands will service local communities and tourists once they are restored and opened for public use.
Upper Twin Island is located north of Pike Island Locks and Dam between Martins Ferry and Beech Bottom. Although it once was prominent, it is now mostly submerged due to the dam.
Hoeft, a fisheries biologist for 27 years, purchased the property at a tax sale about six years ago with the intention to preserve and restore it.
Eventually, the islands will belong to the National Wildlife Refuge, according to Ashton Berdine, lands program manager with the trust. He said the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has particular interest in resurrecting both properties because they are valuable as refuges for young fish and river mussels, which are vital to the waterway’s ecosystem.
Gallipolis Island, which is still partially above water, was once 88 acres, according to Berdine. He said erosion from the waves of passing barges whittled it down to just 1.5 acres.
Hoeft said he’s happy to donate the land, but said the process to restore it will be arduous.
“It’s better if the government owns it, because that way it will benefit everybody,” he said.
Hoeft added both the state and federal government will collaborate to complete the project. This will involve a back-and-forth between numerous agencies. Hoeft gave a ballpark estimate of five to 10 years until the islands are mended.
Hoeft owns two other Ohio River islands and said depending on how the trust handles these specific properties, he may donate them, as well.
The West Virginia Land Trust maintains more than 6,000 acres across West Virginia, and its conservation efforts are broad, ranging from forest preservation to protecting source water.