Time stands still high above Canaan Valley, in Dolly Sods, where a flat, windswept expanse of subalpine heath barrens opens up to the sky. Stunted red spruce, ancient bogs and forlorn boulders define this haunting landscape, where creatures typically found in more northern environs roam oblivious to their geologic isolation. The Nature Conservancy’s 477-acre Bear Rocks Preserve is a cornerstone of this wonderfully diverse and complex ecosystem, which lies on a ridge crest that forms part of the Eastern Continental Divide.
Once mostly covered by dense, towering red spruce and hemlock forest, Bear Rocks and the surrounding area saw major deforestation, followed by livestock grazing, by the turn of the last century, leaving the region ecologically distressed. Today, however, the much-visited landscape is recovering well, with Conservancy efforts in the region focusing on mending and connecting large protected landscapes in order to breathe new life into this timeless region.
What You'll See
Whipping, whistling wind greets visitors to Bear Rock’s barren expanse, where the undulating mountains of the east fold out across the skyline. Dotting this view are large birds of prey that ride warm air currents rising from the valley below, while colorful warblers, vireos, thrushes and other songbirds hug low to the ground, where a profusion of plant life provides protection and food.
Lightly treaded trails entwine throughout the preserve’s unique plant communities, leading hikers through a variety of shrubs like blueberry, huckleberry, mountain laurel, azalea and rhododendron. In some areas, soggy, decay-logged soil supports unique high-elevation cranberry bogs, which flourish each autumn. Throughout, red spruce trees poke from patches of soil, and are at once both nurtured and hampered by the icy cool climate.
Secreted away amidst these plant communities is an assortment of unique creatures that cling heartily to the unforgiving landscape. Here, lucky travelers might catch a glimpse of the Cheat Mountain salamander, on the federal threatened and endangered species list. Harder still to spot is the snowshoe hare or saw-whet owl, animals that typically are found further north.
In order to protect these diverse plant and animal communities, The Nature Conservancy seeks to expand protection efforts and combat threats to Bear Rocks Preserve and the surrounding Dolly Sods area. Efforts include:
How to Prepare for Your Visit
CAUTION: UNEXPLODED ORDNANCES MAY BE ENCOUNTERED!
Bear Rocks Preserve is open to the public for hiking and nature study. Informal trails weave across the preserve, and an extensive trail system occurs on adjacent national forest lands. Visitors should carry the appropriate USGS topographic map (Blackbird Knob, Blackwater Falls, Hopeville, and Laneville cover the entire Dolly Sods area). Topographic maps and additional information about adjoining federal land can be obtained from:
The following activities are NOT permitted at Bear Rocks Preserve:
Nature picture credits (top to bottom, left to right): Photo © Kent Mason (Fall colors at Bear Rocks Preserve); Photo © TNC (Snowshoe hare); Map © TNC (Map of Bear Rocks Preserve).