The New River Gorge National Park & Preserve celebrated the official induction of 12 acres into the old growth forest classification, but West Virginia actually has 11 other old growth forests.
Old-growth forests have never been cleared or harvested by people and are characterized by large, mature trees that are usually hundreds of years old. An executive order signed by President Joe Biden in 2022 called for the inventory of old growth forests in aims of protecting the ecosystems. The initial inventory on the Bureau of Land Management’s website said that there were zero acres of old growth forest in the eastern states.
According to NRGNPP, West Virginia was once covered with old growth forests, but most of it was destroyed by large scale commercial logging in the 1900s. Now, less than 1% of West Virginia’s forest is considered old growth. Although there is no giant forest of old growth like in California or Alaska, West Virginia has a handful of small pockets where old growth forests have survived, according to the Old-Growth Forest Network.
Some places have also become secondary old growth forests, meaning the forests were cut down at some point but have grown back with many of the characteristics of an old growth.
Considered the largest old growth forest in West Virginia, Cathedral State Park is a view into what West Virginia would have looked like without logging. The hemlock forest has trees as large as 90 feet tall and 21 feet in circumference and covered 133 acres in Preston County.
Located in the Monongahela National Forest and the highlands of West Virginia, the 50-acre plot of forest has both old-growth and second growth red spruce, which is only found in higher elevations, as well as yellow birch, beech, red maple and sugar maple. Some of the trees are 40 inches in diameter and are estimated to be 300 years old. To see the area, use the Allegheny Trail #701 and the Gaudineer Interpretive Trail.
Within a 777-acre area in Wyoming County, there is a major juxtaposition from the state park forest and the privately owned, timbered land around it that show a great example of the difference between old-growth and second growth forests. Three park trails, the Hemlock Trail, the Cliffside Trail and the Fall Trail, will give visitors access to the old growth.
Burnwood Trail – These 12 acres in the Burnwood Day Use Area were added on Aug. 4, 2023. New River Gorge NP&P said in a release that numerous trees date back to before 1800 with some samples dating back to 1670.
Stone Cliff Old Growth – This 11-acre area got missed when most of the now preserve was logged in the past. At the end of the Stone Cliff Trail, you can find chinquapin oaks, northern red oaks, bitternut hickories, and buckeyes, some of which are two and three feet in diameter and estimated to be 100-200 years old.
Located in Brooke County, 60 acres of the 261-acre Parkinson Forest is considered old growth, with sugar maple, American beech, red oak, tulip trees, and white oak that are estimated to be almost 250 years old. The forest is accessible using the Bethany Trail System.
On the rim of the Gauley River Canyon, there are 30 acres of old growth in Nicholas County. Near the bottom of the Pierson Hollow Trail, visitors can see hemlock, tulip poplar and northern red oak, which are between 250 and 400 years old.
Approximately 15 acres along the trail have all the characteristics of an old growth forest, according to the Old Growth Forest Network. Four different tree species in that area hold height records for West Virginia, including
Although the 8,101-acre area at Holly River State Park in Webster County is still being surveyed, there are several areas of old growth, including along the Wilderness Trail and Potato Knob Trail. Some northern red oaks and chestnut oaks are believed to be more than 200 years old, and there are also old tulip trees and black cherry trees.
The exact size of this old-growth area, which is along the Ann Bailey and Burnside Ridge trails in Pocahontas County, is still undetermined. According to the Old-Growth Forest Network, ancient species of many species have been found, including white oak, red oak, chestnut oak, black oak, yellow poplar, black gum, pitch pine, white pine, mockernut hickory, black birch, and cucumber tree. Some white oaks are estimated to be between 300 and 350 years old.
Although most of the forest is considered secondary old growth, there are some old growth trees, including white oaks, chestnut oaks, northern red oaks, and yellow poplar that are more than 250 years old and white oaks that are likely more than 300 years old. This specific tract of the Kanawha Forest is also home to many types of animals and rare plants.
Because it has no roads or cattle trails and very few invasive species, officials assume the 40 acres of forest have avoided major human disturbance since the War of 1812. Although it is considered secondary old growth instead of true old growth, it still has trees that are as old as 150-250 years. To see this forest, use the Lost Trail and Mary Davis Trail, but as a warning, they are both considered pretty difficult.
Although not listed at old-growth forest, according to the West Virginia Encyclopedia (2012), the oldest table mountain pine which is more than 280 years old is on Pike Knob in Pendleton County, and white oaks that are small for their age but more than 400 years old can be found in the Murphy Tract in Ritchie County. The Virgin Hemlock Trail in Preston County near Coopers Rock State Forest also has a grove of hemlocks that are more than 300 years old.