“I am a mighty mountain. I rise above the others and look down upon their crowns. When you see me from below I seem to shoulder out the sky. For more than half a hundred miles I stretch my length. Five miles across my top spreads, holding between its double row of peaks its own private valley. There, cradled in eternal green, my own river flows. I am rough. I am cold. Men call me Cheat.”
- W.E. Blackhurst, 1965
“Of Men and a Mighty Mountain”
This is country like none other in the Central Appalachians. Cheat Mountain is exceptionally high, with four peaks rising above 4800 feet and supporting the most extensive spruce forests south of the Adirondacks. It nestles the upper Shavers Fork of Cheat River, the highest large stream in the East. Ice floes that break up in the spring scour the river’s edge, an ecological phenomenon more typically encountered in eastern Canada and northern New England. The Cheat Mountain country is also one of the coldest, snowiest parts of the Appalachians, where over 300 inches of snow has been known to fall in one remarkable winter.
The Cheat Mountain area supports a greater variety of summer warblers than any other known West Virginia location. The upper Shavers Fork drainage supports one of the largest concentrations of rare species in the Central Appalachians, including the West Virginia flying squirrel, Cheat Mountain salamander, globally rare wildflower Barbara’s buttons, and what may be the last viable population anywhere for the Cheat minnow. Woven throughout this region is a rich tapestry of plants and animals, including the saw-whet owl, winter wren, red crossbill, snowshoe hare, fisher and mountain cranberry. Shaver’s Fork is one of the state’s premier trout fishing streams, and the upper Shavers Fork is among West Virginia’s most popular recreation areas.
A little more than a century ago, West Virginia supported 460,000 acres of spruce and spruce-hardwood forests. All but a few hundred acres were logged within a short period of time nearly a century ago. The species dependent on that forest continue to suffer the consequences. For example, both the West Virginia flying squirrel and Cheat Mountain salamander are now on the federal list of threatened and endangered species.
Today, about 40,000 acres of second and third-growth spruce remain in West Virginia , much of that in the Cheat Mountain landscape. In recent decades, surface mining, development activities and roads have continued to fragment forested areas. Removal of the spruce also affected the river’s ability to support native brook trout, along with sedimentation from coal mining and road construction. An insect pest accidentally introduced from Asia is threatening to destroy the southernmost native stand of balsam firs, also found here.
It will be centuries before extensive areas of high- quality spruce forest will redevelop, but the best beginnings are here. The Conservancy will work with the Forest Service and other partners to promote restoration of this magnificent ecosystem. Our strategies also include working with partners on traditional land protection of core parcels, addressing problems associated with non-native pests, supporting restoration of river habitats, and creating a deeper public understanding of this landscape’s ecological values and conservation needs. We will also work closely with the Forest Service and corporate landowners to promote conservation action on both the National Forest and private lands.
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