The treasured Dolly Sods Wilderness has long been considered one of the crown jewels of eastern wilderness areas. Located in Grant, Tucker, and Randolph counties in the Monongahela National Forest, its sweeping vistas and unique ecology have drawn visitors from around the country who are eager to experience the feeling of a boundless and truly wild back country.
In light of the rapidly increasing visitation to the Dolly Sods Wilderness and related impact on natural areas and wilderness character, the West Virginia Highlands Conservancy has teamed with the Monongahela National Forest to form the Dolly Sods Wilderness Stewards. The partnership has allowed for volunteer action to supplement the Forest Service’s wilderness management activities, engage in visitor education, and support the long-term health of the wilderness.
In the two years since the program has been established, the Dolly Sods Wilderness Stewards has grown to include more than 100 volunteers committed to ensuring safe recreation and supporting the wilderness character of Dolly Sods for the next generations.
A critical component of the Dolly Sods Wilderness Stewards program is the Trailhead Stewards. During peak seasons, Trailhead Stewards are stationed at popular trailheads and greet and assist visitors who are embarking on a hike in Dolly Sods, offering resources, Leave No Trace practices, values of the wilderness and helpful tips.
Wilderness Stewards also carry out activities like solitude monitoring, where the number of encounters on wilderness trails is surveyed; an inventory of all the campsites in Dolly Sods was conducted; and trailhead registration sheets are collected and the boxes maintained. Teams for performing trail maintenance and clearing fallen trees with crosscut saws are being formed.
The response from visitors has been enthusiastic, as the Stewards are viewed as providing resources they can use to enjoy a safe, responsible and rewarding experience in the wilderness.
The Dolly Sods Wilderness Stewards is continuing to develop, with new and exciting projects underway or anticipated, and planned expansion of our existing programs. We always welcome new volunteers, and there are many ways you can be involved. There are no minimum time commitments, and you don’t have to live close to Dolly Sods or have any related background experience to participate – just join us when you can!
Are you interested in being part of our support of Dolly Sods? Sign up now!
Dolly Sods Wilderness is one of eight congressionally designated wilderness areas in West Virginia and is located in the north central part of the state along the escarpment of the Allegheny Front. Dolly Sods encompasses most of the drainage of Red Creek, a tributary of the Cheat River. Red Creek rises from numerous highland bogs in a broad plateau at around 4,000 feet and then flows down through a dramatic canyon, both of which are part of Dolly Sods. The wilderness is an area of incomparable scenic beauty and includes habitat unique to the Appalachians, similar to that of Canadian areas much further north.
Dolly Sods was originally composed of open meadows surrounded by a dense native forest of red spruce, hemlock, and mature hardwoods, but was extensively logged in the early 20th century. The leftover slash and exposed organic soil were subject to massive fires which burned the soil down to bedrock. The area was considered a wasteland and was used as a practice artillery range during World War II.
But left to recover on its own since then, its wild nature has reasserted itself, and Dolly Sods serves as a lesson in the resilience of nature and a laboratory for understanding and appreciating the processes of natural rejuvenation. The official designation of Dolly Sods as a wilderness in 1975 helped ensure that these natural processes could continue to play out with minimum control or interference by humans.
The Conservancy played a role in the initial designation of Dolly Sods Wilderness as well as its expansion in 2009. In 1969 the Conservancy published the first wilderness proposal and trail guide for Dolly Sods, which outlined the history, special characteristics and rationale for creating the wilderness. The ultimate designation by Congress closely followed this proposal. The Conservancy has a special connection and sense of stewardship for Dolly Sods. The Dolly Sods Wilderness Stewards program was formed to provide a means for the Conservancy and its volunteers to carry forward the goal of protecting and preserving the wilderness for the benefit of future generations.
To read more about the background and unique nature of Dolly Sods, please download and read the Dolly Sods Wilderness Proposal and Trail Guide.