I have been writing this column for about four years and have often said that many outdoor enthusiasts in this state do not realize what is available to them when it comes to public recreation. Several years ago, when I worked at Memorial General Hospital, I was talking to a state game biologist, who is now retired, about this subject, and he was quick to agree with me.
The Monongahela National Forest takes in over 900,000 acres of public land within a 1.7 million-acre proclamation boundary. These tracts of acreage are well-scattered throughout ten West Virginia Counties. All of this is a recreational paradise for millions who enjoy all sorts of outdoor activities.
The National Forest was established in 1920 with slightly over 7,200 acres. Today it covers 919,000-plus acres. There are 23 large campgrounds, 17 spacious picnic areas, and two observation towers. In addition to this, there are more than 165 foot trails covering over 800 miles that can be used for backpacking, mountain biking, cross-country skiing and horseback riding. Bird watching, fishing, hunting and wildlife observation are also popular activities. Game species include black bear, white-tailed deer, wild turkey and all sorts of small game. Ninety percent of the trout streams in West Virginia are within the proclamation boundary of this National Forest.
The MNF includes most of the highest mountain peaks in West Virginia, including Spruce Knob (4,863 feet), the highest point in the state. Over 200 species of wild birds make their home in this area; some are year-round residents of the forest. There are approximately 75 tree species, and most of it is second growth forest despite being heavily forested at the turn of the 20th century.
This National Forest is a major tourist attraction in Eastern United States. Approximately 3 million visitors from all over the nation and Canada come to MNF for some form of recreation. This means big money for local businesses.
While I do not have enough space to list all of the areas of interest in this national Forest, here are a few of my favorites:
Gaudineer Scenic Area: This 140-acre tract is located near Gaudineer Knob of Shavers Mountain along the Randolph-Pocahontas County Line. Within this area is a 50-acre tract of virgin Red Spruce forest.
Spruce Knob Summit and Lake: On West Virginia's highest peak is a stone and steel observation tower. From this point, a person can enjoy a 360-degree view of beautiful West Virginia Scenery. The nearby Spruce Knob Lake is a favorite for anglers who enjoy ice fishing.
Stuart Recreation Area: This well-known public recreation area is just a few minutes drive from Elkins. It offers camping, hiking, swimming and picnicking. There are 26 campsites suitable for both tent and trailer camping. There are also three picnic pavilions available for reservations.
Backwater Falls: This is actually a State Park located within the proclamation boundary of MNF, about one mile west of Davis in Tucker County. In 2004, this park received a prestigious 21st Century American Places Award. This is the location of West Virginia's most scenic waterfall. There is a paved gentle sloping trail designed for wheelchairbound and elderly visitors. Other facilities include boating, hiking trails, horseback riding, campgrounds, playground and various game courts. A golf course is located at nearby Canaan Valley State Park.
The main administration headquarters for MNF is in Elkins at 200 Sycamore Street. Here, one can find all sorts of brochures pertaining to the available recreational opportunities.
The National Forest has approximately 100 permanent employees and is supplemented by temporary employees and volunteers. All of these people are dedicated to the long-term use, protection and responsible development of this recreational paradise.