As cool, moist air kisses your skin, the very ground beneath your feet feels less than solid. A squelchsound accompanies every step, as spongey soil grabs at your feet. The vibration you felt first in your chest soon fills the air, and you realize your heart is fine, but there’s a ruffed grouse nearby on the forest floor, drumming its wings.
“It’s really a magical feeling,” says Kathryn Barlow, restoration manager for The Nature Conservancy’s Central Appalachian Program. Barlow is describing the experience of walking into a Central Appalachian red spruce forest, especially on a summer day.
Thousands upon thousands of people seek out these sensations every year. From West Virginia’s renowned Dolly Sods Wilderness to Virginia’s storied Clinch Mountain, some of our most scenic and popular mountain destinations are the highest. In such places, traveling up is like traveling north—to the boreal forests of New England and Canada. And the habitat that creates this otherworldly experience is the red spruce forest.