Approximately 80 percent of the acreage in West Virginia is forest covered. The State's economy depends on these forests for wood production, recreation, wildlife, and many other uses. Timber harvests have increased each year in West Virginia for several decades. There is great demand that forestland be maintained as a high-quality resource.
In 1934, a research and study area was carved from Monongahela National Forest to be representative of West Virginia's forests. It was named Fernow Experimental Forest after Bernhard Eduard Fernow (1851-1923) who was responsible for establishing much of the groundwork of the United States Forest Service. Fernow has often been called "the Father of American Forestry."
Fernow Experimental Forest is located in Tucker County about three miles south of Parsons. This area takes in only about 4,700 acres, which is somewhat small considering that Monongahela National Forest is over 900,000 acres. It is very diverse with good roads and provides excellent viewing opportunities for wildlife. Black bear, white-tailed deer, wild turkey, and many other small game animals make their homes in this forest.
The real purpose of this experimental forest is to have a better understanding of the states' woodlands, water, soil and wildlife in order to protect and preserve these valuable resources. Today, Fernow Experimental Forest is a thriving field laboratory for this purpose. The elevation ranges from 1,750-3,650 feet, with steep slopes.
The climate is generally rainy and cool. The mean annual precipitation is about 58 inches. The mean annual temperature is about 48 degrees Fahrenheit. Temperatures of 10-20 degrees below zero Fahrenheit are common during the winter months.
Most of the roads in the Fernow Experimental Forest are part of the National Forest road system. The main Fernow road is open for public use. Follow the signs from north of the Shavers Fork Bridge in downtown Parsons to the Fernow Forest.
The experimental forest is primarily made up of hardwood trees. Oaks are the most common species. Northern Red, Chestnut and White Oak are the most abundant of this group. Scarlet and Black Oak can be observed on some sites. American Beech and Sugar Maple are also numerous on all but poor sites. Some of the numerous other species of hardwood trees include yellow poplar, wild black cherry, white ash, basswood, red maple, black locust and black walnut.
Research in the Fernow Experimental Forest by the Timber and Watershed scientists is conducted in cooperation with the Monongahela National Forest, West Virginia University, Marshall University, Penn State University, Virginia Polytechnic Institute, and the West Virginia Division of Natural Resources. The results from these studies are made public in government publications and in trade journal articles to foresters, forest scientists, landowners, students, and timber operators in West Virginia and neighboring states.
Fernow Experimental Forest is also a fun place to bike in the Parsons area. The Parsons Loop is a 19-mile trail that takes a person through this beautiful, managed woodland. The loop trail starts at Mill Race Park in Parsons. The riding surface is a combination of pavement, rail-trail, forest road, and dual track. Along this trail, the biker will pass within site of four different rivers. They will also be able to test their luck on a suspension footbridge. After the footbridge, take the Brooklyn Heights Road to Forest Road 701 and the entrance to Fernow Experimental Forest. Next, take Forest Roads 709 and 828 in succession. This will take you down Fork Mountain. At the bottom of Fork Mountain, you leave the experimental forest and get on Tucker County Route 41. This road runs parallel to the Shavers Fork Stream and returns to Parsons.
Some of the achievements from the research in the experimental forest are as follows:
n Demonstrated the benefits of quality forest management in West Virginia
n Developed improved logging methods that are practical and profitable at the same time
n Established that cutting a forest does not create a flood hazard when the forest floor is protected from erosion
n Proved that well-engineered forest roads prevent erosion that sometimes accompany logging operations
This area is also open to public hunting during the established hunting seasons by the West Virginia DNR. The hunter must have a valid hunting license and a national forest stamp in his or her possession while hunting on this acreage.
Visitors are welcome to tour the experimental forest. Show-me trips, which provide a lecturer or a guided tour through the forest, can be arranged for interested individuals or groups. I think this would be an excellent spring field trip for any school class.
Interested persons wanting to arrange tours should contact Timber and Watershed Laboratory, Nursery Bottom, Parsons, West Virginia 26287, or call 304-478-2000.