First of all, I must wish all of West Virginia a happy 157th birthday. Today is West Virginia Day, a state holiday to celebrate the day when West Virginia became the 35th state in the nation (June 20, 1863).
I am still trying to catch up with my website posts after our satellite Internet service failed for more than 16 days. In this post, I wish to introduce you to a section of the Monongahela National Forest on Shavers Mountain, roughly 6 miles northwest of Durbin. We visited it to escape the heat and humidity that invaded our area on June 11. This designated recreational area and its two trails (roughly one mile apart) give patrons a glimpse of what ancient West Virginia was like long before it was settled. It is known as the Gaudineer Scenic Area, and it contains one of a handful of old growth forest remnants containing red spruce trees that are more than 100 feet tall and at least 250 years old. Named for a former dedicated National Forest Service ranger, the two trails provide a wilderness experience that is rare in any eastern state, much less West Virginia itself.
The scenic trail itself begins at the location of a former fire watchtower that has been long removed. As you proceed along the half-mile loop you walk through a thick forest of mature second-growth trees where the forest floor is carpeted with a dense growth of moss, rather than the typical shrubs and bushes that are common in recovering forests. The moss covers fallen tree remains and boulders, and provides firm evidence that the original deep forest soil layers are recovering.
The trail, which is generally level and easy to walk throughout its course, eventually leads to a scenic overlook along the western flank of Shavers Mountain that provides a dramatic view of an unbroken forest across the immediate flanks of Cheat Mountain and the ridges beyond. No unnatural open or developed areas are visible in the viewscape (see the picture at the top of this post). Standing at that point, you get a real impression of what the region was like when it was first explored.
Moving on to the second half-mile-long trail (roughly one mile farther along the forest service road), you will arrive at a tract of land that was never clear-cut during the timbering boom that swept through West Virginia in the late 1800’s and early 1900’s. A surveying error made it possible for the tract to remain untouched, preserving a stand of old growth red spruce trees that tower about a canopy of mixed hardwoods. This trail is a little more challenging to negotiate with rocky stream crosses and slight elevational changes. However, the experience of standing amongst 100-foot tall trees that first began from saplings that sprouted around the time of the American Revolution is truly inspiring. I learned that one of the reasons the trail can be difficult to negotiate is because your eyes are drawn upward by the majesty of the towering spruces, making it almost impossible to keep your focus on the tripping hazards that abound.
The experience we gained from visiting this wonderous scenic area is unique among all the places we have visited in West Virginia. It is truly one of the primary reasons our state is known as “Almost Heaven.” If you decide to visit any of the scenic attractions I have introduced through my website posts, you must visit this one!