New Hiking Guide Brings Color Photos, Maps, and 200 Trails

By Hugh Rogers

It’s been a long hike to a new edition of the Monongahela National Forest Hiking Guide. Some of our companions didn’t make it all the way. We miss our primary author of the 5th through 8th editions, Allen De Hart, and our former editor, Bruce Sundquist. Both men died in 2016.

Fortunately, Allen had begun working on the 9th edition, opening a trail for us to follow. An informal publications committee, including Frank Young, George Beetham, Lois Ludwig, and me, shared our findings and ideas with him throughout 2015, but toward the end of that year his communications slowed. He was 90 years old at the time of his death. He had written—and kept up—eleven different guidebooks on hiking in West Virginia and the Southeastern states; he had also campaigned for new trails in many of them, he had taught for thirty-six years at Louisburg College, in North Carolina, and he had founded and endowed botanical gardens both at Louisburg and near his birthplace below the Blue Ridge in Virginia. We were lucky to know him.

The Hiking Guide first appeared as a committee-written text in the Fall of 1972. Coaxed by Bruce Sundquist, a writer, hiker, and river-runner from Pennsylvania, its subsequent editions became fuller, better illustrated, and more widely used. Allen retained the basic format while expanding the book to compete with others that had begun to appear (to this day, no other guide covers every trail on the Mon).

Our new edition continues the Guide’s evolution. For the first time, all maps and photos are in color. Kent Mason’s vivid images leap off the pages. We are grateful for his generous donation, which will attract many more to the book. It’s a gallery as well as a guide.

When we needed new maps, Rick Webb introduced us to Dan Shaffer, who has worked with him on pipeline issues at the Allegheny-Blue Ridge Alliance. Dan built the topos with digital layers that weren’t available for previous editions. The layers did not always agree. Working through puzzles, he produced the most accurate maps possible.

The more I got involved in the details, the harder it was to see the forest for the trees. What had seemed at first a simple update ultimately became a new book. When we needed help with layout and design, I knew who to call: our friend Colleen Anderson, whose studio in Charleston is called Mother Wit. Her expertise, imagination, and cheerfulness made every problem a fun exercise.

There are many other people to thank, but that’s what the acknowledgments page is for. However, we would like to note our mutual dependence on the Monongahela National Forest staff. They provide us with their best information on trails; we provide them with the best advertising for their resources, and a service that may keep some people from getting lost.

Our relationship with the Mon has changed over the years. Allen and Bruce used to have sharp arguments (occasionally refereed by Frank Young) over the Guide’s role in criticizing forest policies. That came to a head in the run-up to the latest Land and Resource Management Plan (2006, revised 2011). Today, we find ourselves generally allied with, and admiring of, the staff in Elkins and the ranger districts. Our disputes are with their superiors in Milwaukee and Washington.

Readers familiar with former editions of the Guide will note changes in the writing and arrangement along with the trails that have been added or dropped. We hope you will flip through its pages and find new places to explore. If you’re put off by the crowds around Bear Rocks in the fall, consider heading south to Laurel Fork Trail (p. 170) and the network of trails beyond it. Or go west to the new complex of trails on Cheat Mountain (p. vii), or south again to Big Draft Wilderness (p. 229). The Cranberry Wilderness (p. 239), already the largest in the East, was further expanded in 2009—backpackers are as likely to see a bear as another hiker. Remember to hang your food.

With all the changes, we kept the best features of the previous editions, and followed Allen De Hart’s absolute rule: there must be a photo of a bear.