Ancient trees saved by a mistake

DURBIN, W.Va. — The Gaudineer Scenic Area is what West Virginia’s mountain highlands originally looked like.

The 140-acre tract is dominated by virgin and second-growth red spruce, the tree that once flourished on West Virginia’s mountaintops.

Red spruce thrives at elevations of 3,800 feet and higher. The result: dark green ridge tops and northern islands through the West Virginia Highlands.

The Gaudineer red spruce are big: up to 40 inches in diameter at breast height and 250 years old. There are also yellow birch, beech, red and sugar maple and other hardwoods. It is a touch of New England or Canada on the West Virginia slopes.

The area is to be managed in an undisturbed condition for study and enjoyment. The forest only survived because of a surveying mistake decades ago. Today, the Gaudineer is one of the few old-growth forests in West Virginia easily accessible to visitors.

It sits atop Shavers Mountain in West Virginia’s sprawling 919,000-acre Monongahela National Forest. It’s just north of Gaudineer Knob on the border between Randolph and Pocahontas counties. The 4,432-foot peak is the highest spot on Shavers Mountain, a ridge in the heart of the Allegheny Mountains.

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