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Logging the Virgin Forests of West Virginia

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If you've ever backpacked in the West Virginia mountains, there's one fact that becomes quickly evident. Virtually every hollow, every stream, and every mountain has a railroad grade. In some places, the railroad ties are still on the ground. In others, visitors might run across a rusting washtub in the middle of the woods, or even an occasional railroad spike or rail. Regardless of how far back you go or how deep into the wilderness, the grades are there - mute testament to the energy of man, power of the dollar, and the complete destruction of the West Virginia forest ecosystem.

In many years of travel through the West Virginia backcountry, I've often wondered what the original forest must have looked like. Could I possibly envision walking through miles and miles of spruce forest with trees growing to a size difficult to comprehend? What would it have been like to camp in these hollows and flats filled with massive trees and extensive laurel and rhododendron thickets, where in places the cover was so thick that sunlight never reached the ground? What would I have felt standing next to a poplar soaring 140 feet into the sky? I can only imagine.

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The McClintic Trail

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dam-remainsThe McClintic Trail starts from the top of the mountain between the headwaters of Swago Creek and those of the main Williams River on the Gauley Ranger District of the Monongahela National Forest. It crosses around the headwaters of the Williams River, follows along the top of Black Mountain, and drops down the left hand fork of the Middle Fork of the Williams River to a point near the last forks. This fork takes its name, "McClintic Run," from the trail. This name appears wrongly, however, on the topographic maps of the U.S. Geological Survey because they switched the name to the right hand fork of the Middle Fork of the Williams River.

The trail itself took its name from Withrow McClintic, who was responsible for its construction. Withrow was a brother of the present Judge McClintic, judge of the United States District Court for the Southern District of West Virginia. The trail starts from a farm which was then owned by Withrow McClintic and is now owned by his brother, the judge.

Between the years of 1894 and 1900, the Gauley Lumber Company, predecessor of the Cherry River Boom and Lumber Company, began to operate the softwood, spruce and hemlock in the drainage of the Middle Fork of Williams River. Their mill was located at Gauley Mills, approximately one mile above Camden-on-Gauley and there was no mill at Richwood at that time.

The heads of the Gauley Lumber Company figured it would be possible to drive softwood logs down the Williams River to their mill. Stream improvements in the form of splash dams and channel improvements were consequently made and negotiations initiated for the cutting.

Logging on all these operations was done by contract and it was to Withrow McClintic that the contract went to cut and skid 10,000,000 feet of softwood logs from the watershed of the Middle Fork of Williams River to the banks of the stream. The company intended to do its own driving.

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On the Trail of the Vanishing Spruce

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Below is reprinted an article, in part, that appeared in a 1925 issue of The Scientific Monthly. 

The romantic story of the "lost tribe" has invariably caught our fancy, in whatever form it has appeared. There is a wistful appeal in the picture of an isolated community, preserving in some forgotten corner of the world the manners and customs of a far distant homeland. The original lost tribes of Israel or the fabled lost" Atlantis," the realm of Prester John, the imagined but never discovered remnant of the Aztecs in Peru, all these and many others have beguiled us, down to the survival of seventeenth-century England that is found today in the mountains of Kentucky and Arkansas. All unknown to many, we have in this country another lost tribe, a vanishing race, whose romantic history antedates even that of Israel or the lost Atlantis, and which has remained through the centuries, isolated in an alien land, and yet clinging persistently to the characteristics of its own kind hundreds of miles and thousands of years away; The "lost tribe" in this instance is not, however, a kind of men, but a species of tree, or rather two related species, red spruce and Fraser fir, direct descendants of the Canadian spruce and balsam.

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1917 - The Red Spruce: Its Growth and Management

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Spruce is one of the most important woods in the Eastern United States. It grows on large areas in pure or nearly pure stands, is distributed over many of the Northern States, and extends into the southern Appalachians at the higher altitudes. It is used more than any other wood in the manufacture of paper, and supplies a large amount of lumber and other material. Various methods of forest management for spruce have been adopted by large lumber and pulp companies, of which spruce often forms the principal cut. The chief purpose of this bulletin is to formulate definite systems of forest management for various conditions.

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Who are we?

This website has been established and is being managed by the West Virginia Highlands Conservancy to support the work of the Central Appalachian Spruce Restoration Initiative (CASRI).

CASRI is a partnership of diverse interests with a common goal of restoring historic red spruce-northern hardwood ecosystems across the high elevation landscapes of Central Appalachia. It is comprised of private, state, federal, and non-governmental organizations who share a recognition of the importance of this ecosystem.

Contact Us

For more information, and volunteer opportunities, please contact :

Julie Fosbender

Partnership coordinator

US Forest Service

Monongahela National Forest

jfosbender@fs.fed.us

P: 304-636-1800

f: 304-637-0582

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