Old Growth Forests in West Virginia

By Luanne McGovern

Did you know that there are 15 forest areas in West Virginia that are designated as “old growth?” They range in size from a few acres in North Bend State Park, to 1,350 acres in Kanawha State Forest.

The national Old Growth Network was established in 2011 and is dedicated to ensuring that some of the oldest trees in the country are just left alone. As the climate continues to change, the value of old growth trees cannot be underestimated. These trees sequester more carbon and nitrogen than forests of younger age classes. Besides carbon sequestration, these rare old growth forests inspire awe and wonder with their beauty. They have unique ecological roles to play based on their structure–home to animals, insects, birds and fungi. Old growth forests retain moisture and create soil, improving water and air quality.  

Many of West Virginia’s old growth forests are located within our state parks. Cathedral State Park is renowned for its virgin hemlocks; Beech Fork has a section of trees believed to date prior to the War of 1812; Holly River has oaks and chestnut oaks that are more than 200 years old; Twin Falls has designed 777 acres as old growth; Watoga has oak trees than may be more than 300 years old; Carnifax Ferry Battlefield has trees that are 240 to 400 years old. Federal lands also support old growth forests such as the Gaudineer Scenic Area in the Monongahela National Forest. Two new areas have been identified by the National Park Service within the New River Gorge National Park. There are two old growth forests on private lands–the Bethany College Parkinson Forest and the Marie Hall Jones Ancient Forest Preserve in Doddridge County, owned by the West Virginia Land Trust.

All of the West Virginia old growth forests are free and open to the public. So, get out there and be inspired! 

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