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North Fork Mountain

Pike Knob and Panther Knob Preserves


Running northeast to southwest for 34 miles throughout Grant and Pendleton Counties, North Fork Mountain is the driest high mountain in the Appalachians. Storm systems arriving from the Midwest have dropped most of their precipitation immediately to the west, leaving the mountaintop susceptible to drought and fire. Here, atop this dry crest, visitors encounter natural communities and species seldom seen elsewhere.

The mountain supports the largest fire-maintained dwarf pine Woodland in the Central Appalachians, the southernmost native red pine forests, the region's highest-quality yellow birch-mountain-ash-mountain holly elfin woodland, the highest quality natural grass bald remaining in West Virginia, a block of acidic oak forest, and virgin red spruce forest. Additionally, visitors to the mountain will find it rich in its mixture of Eastern, Appalachian, and cold-loving plants and animals:  It supports the largest global population of the fire-dependent variable sedge, a large population of the globally rare white alumroot – which is known only from a few counties in West Virginia and Virginia – multiple populations of the globally uncommon Appalachian oak fern and Allegheny onion, several northern species at the southern limit of their ranges, and many other rare species.

What The Nature Conservancy Has Done / Is Doing

The Conservancy is working to protect North Fork Mountain through land acquisition, education and restoration efforts.  The Conservancy:

  • Owns or manages 1,600 acres at its Pike Knob Preserve and nearly 3,000 acres at its Panther Knob Preserve. 
     
  • Has acquired 2,000 acres next to Pike Knob Preserve for the Monongahela National Forest. 
     
  • Is providing conservation and ecological management expertise to private land owners and public land managers.
     
  • Is controlling non-native, invasive weeds at Pike Knob.
     
  • Is studying the historic and ecological roles of fire at Panther and Pike Knobs.
     
  • Is classifying the ridgetop plant communities and determining their fire histories.
     
  • Is treating hemlock on private lands under conservation easement adjacent to Panther Knob.
     
  • Is adding more protected buffer lands around Panther Knob through Forest Legacy 'working forest' easements with private landowner partners and the Division of Forestry.
     
  • Is supporting the expansion of the red pine forest by allowing seedlings that are coming up in meadow to grow into a young red pine forest – restoring forest to some areas historically cleared for cattle grazing. 
Visitation Guidelines

The following activities are NOT permitted at Pike Knob Preserve:

- Biking  
- Camping 
- Driving an ATV or off-road vehicle
- Cooking or camp fires 
- Horseback riding 
- Removing any part of the landscape  
- Geocaching

The Nature Conservancy’s Pike Knob Preserve is currently open to the public year-round during daylight hours.  Panther Knob Preserve is open for guided tours only.

Download the Pike Knob fact sheet before your visit.

Directions

(from Franklin)

  • Take US 33 west for 4.5 miles.
     
  • After Friends Run Church of the Brethren, take first road to left
     
  • At 0.2 mile, take first road to right.  (This is the old Franklin-Circleville Pike.)  The road conditions slowly deteriorate as you climb the mountain; after about two miles it becomes too rough for a passenger car. We recommend pulling off (without blocking the road or a private side road) and hiking up the road.  A high clearance vehicle can go about another half mile; we recommend against driving beyond that distance.  At this point, the preserve boundary is on the right.  As you hike uphill, the old road goes onto national forest land. 
     
  • Hiking the road, you will reach the top of the mountain in a gap.  Take the old Jeep trail to the right, which continues to climb uphill, leading to the summit of Pike Knob, where there is a small clearing in which a fire tower once stood.  The ruins of the watchman's cabin remain.
     
  • To reach Nelson Sods, walk north from the knob along a path that will first lead into a small mountain top meadow with red pines and nice views to the northeast.  Follow the path through the meadow and to the Sods, a much larger meadow with nearly 360-degree views.
Discussion

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