Why You Should Visit
The Panther Knob Preserve straddles a high elevation plateau at the junction of North Fork Mountain and Ruleman Mountain and includes the 4508-foot summit. The preserve stretches for more than four miles along the ridges.
Bare, rocky, sandstone summits, West Virginia's largest native stands of paper birch, and the Central Appalachian's largest fire-maintained pine barrens can be found here. Other high Allegheny ridges to the west intercept weather systems, causing storms to drop much of their rainfall and snowfall on those mountains. As a result, North Fork Mountain is one of the driest mountains in the East. Red spruce, which usually dominates at these high elevations, is very local on North Fork Mountain, with a virgin stand of spruce occurring on the preserve. Red oak forests and pine barrens clothe the ridgetops. Recurring fires have been a major ecological process defining these forests and barrens. The barrens consist of stunted 60 to 100 year old pitch and table mountain pines, with a thick understory of black huckleberry, mountain laurel and scrub oak.
Central Appalachian Forest Ecoregion
This is very rugged, remote and undeveloped hiking, suitable only for experienced, healthy hikers. Weather can change quickly; visitors should dress appropriately and wear sturdy hiking boots. Rattlesnakes may be encountered. There is no safe drinking water source on the mountain.
This preserve is not open to the public. The Panther Knob Preserve is used primarily for research. Public visitation is available during Conservancy-sponsored field trips and volunteer work days. Most of the land is protected through conservation easements on private property that is not open to the public.
What to See: Plants
The largest remaining population of variable sedge, a plant dependent upon natural fires, thrives here. Beach heather, a shrub typically found on coastal dunes, occurs here in small wind-swept pockets of sand. Species restricted to the Southern and Central Appalachians, such as Michaux's saxifrage, and Allegheny onion also occur here.
What to See: Animals
Bear, bobcat, Allegheny woodrats, and gray foxes hunt the slopes of oak and pine and small streams support native brook trout populations. Several boreal species occur here, including the pink-edged sulfur butterfly whose larvae feed on blueberries.
What the Conservancy Has Done/Is Doing
Vacation home developments already cover the mountain's peaks to the north of Panther Knob. The Preserve was created in 1984 with the purchase of 250 acres. To date, the Conservancy owns 359 acres and has protected 2110 acres in conservation easements, with another 420 acres in nearby conservation easements The most recent acquisition was a conservation easement in 2004. The Conservancy is also controlling non-native invasive weeds that threaten the native species and conducting research.