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Places We Protect

Cranesville Swamp

Central Appalachian Mountains

A boardwalk winds through thick foliage shrouded in fog.
Cranesville Swamp Boardwalk through the wetlands of The Nature Conservancy's Cranesville Swamp Preserve. © Kent Mason

Five trails and a 1,500-foot boardwalk allow visitors to explore Cranesville Swamp's lush forest and wetlands.

Overview

Description

At Cranesville Swamp, the elements of wind, water, mountains and temperature have created a landscape that is both beautiful and rare.

In combination, these climactic elements have produced a natural occurrence known as a “frost pocket”—an area where the surrounding hills capture moisture and cold air that conspire to create a landscape more reminiscent of habitat found much further north in Canada. 

As weather travels west-to-east across North America, the hills surrounding Cranesville Swamp channel precipitation and chilled air into the valley, which make the preserve one of the coolest and soggiest spots in West Virginia.     

Access

OPEN TO THE PUBLIC

Dogs are not allowed at this preserve.

Hours

Open year-round during daylight hours.

Highlights

Throughout these rare and diverse wetlands communities, visitors can witness a spectacular range of birds and mammals.

Size

1,774 acres

Explore our work in Central Appalachians

Visit

  • Before You Go

    Although all trails are fewer than two miles and not difficult to walk, hiking boots are recommended as some trails may be muddy.

    We encourage you to use sunscreen when appropriate, avoid poison ivy along the trail, and use insect repellant to protect against chiggers, mosquitoes, and ticks—especially deer ticks— which can carry Lyme disease.

    Camping, pets, bicycling, and motorized vehicles are not permitted on the trails.

    • Bring plenty of drinking water, sun protection (sunscreen, hat, sunglasses), rain gear, and bug protection. Binoculars, field guides, and a camera may be useful.
    • Wear socks and waterproof shoes.
    • Wear light colors to help you spot and remove ticks.

    The following are not permitted at Cranesville Swamp Preserve:

    • Pets
    • Biking and mountain biking
    • Camping 
    • Driving an ATV or off-road vehicle
    • Smoking
    • Horseback riding 
    • Removing any part of the natural landscape 
    • Snowmobiling
    • Geocaching 
    • Cooking or campfires
  • What to Do

    If you want to see, hear and smell the swamp’s plant and animal life—take a hike! There are five trails to choose from, all less than 2 miles long. There are some wet and boggy areas, so please bring proper footwear.

    One of the highlights of the preserve is the 1,500-foot boardwalk, which allows for easy exploration over the wettest parts of the bog. 

  • What to See: Plants & Animals

    The cool, wet environ of Cranesville Swamp has over thousands of years fostered the formation of peat – made of compacted sphagnum moss that creates a nutrient-poor environment as it breaks down. 

    Few trees can survive in the resulting bog, but tall eastern hemlock, red spruce and tamarack prevail in the acidic environment.  Lower to the ground, plants like sundew, cranberry and sedge thrive in open areas.  

    Throughout these rare and diverse wetlands communities, visitors to the preserve can witness a spectacular range of birds and mammals. Lucky visitors may spot the rare northern water shrew, or catch a glimpse of a bear rummaging through the shrub thickets surrounding Muddy Creek. 

    Patience and binoculars may afford others a glimpse of any one of the more than 100 bird species found at Cranesville, such as alder flycatcher, Blackburnian warbler or the saw-whet owl, which nests in stands of red spruce and hemlock in the conifer swamp forest.

Bundled red spruce seedlings ready for planting.
Genetic Diversity A broad and growing movement is restoring red spruce and genetic diversity across the species' native range. © Kathryn Barlow / TNC

What We're Doing

Restoration at Cranesville

The greatest threats to Cranesville Swamp Preserve and its wildlife result from climate change, the impacts of historic logging, incompatible development, invasive species and deer overbrowsing. Since 1960, our work here has included: 

  • Planting more than 35,000 red spruce and 2,000 white pines across more than 300 acres
  • Continual monitoring for new invasive species and management of existing invasive species (e.g. autumn olive, cattail)
  • Water quality research
  • Trail enhancement and nature interpretation projects to improve educational opportunities
  • Saw-whet owl and flying squirrel research 
  • Water bars installed across abandoned logging roads to reduce erosion
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Self Guided Audio Tour

Planning a visit to Cranesville Swamp? Download our self-guided audio tour to your handheld device. Naturalists Rodney Bartgis and Kevin Dodge discuss bog plants, birds, bears and how the area will respond to climate change.

  • Step 1: Download the Cranesville Swamp audio tour map. The numbers marked on the map correspond to the audio files in the tour (note: disregard the number posts on the trail.)
  • Step 2: Download and save the mp3 audio files to your handheld device. Play the corresponding track when you reach a waypoint along the trail. Listen to them all or pick & choose based on your interests!

Audio Tour Files (mp3)

  1. Intro to Cranesville Swamp
  2. Geologic History of Cranesville
  3. Cranesville Habitat Man's Role
  4. Heath Family
  5. Bracken and Club Moss
  6. Black Cherry
  7. Hydrology of Cranesville Swamp
  8. American Mountain Ash
  9. Entering the Old Plantation
  10. Red Pine
  11. Fungi on Forest Floor
  12. Creeping Plants and Shrubs
  13. Powerline View
  14. Beaver Pond, Green Frogs and Warblers
  15. Star Violet
Exploring Cranesville Swamp (1:52) Discover Cranesville Swamp Preserve in this video courtesy of WCHS-TV.

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Find More Places We Protect

The Nature Conservancy owns nearly 1,500 preserves covering more than 2.5 million acres across all 50 states. These lands protect wildlife and natural systems, serve as living laboratories for innovative science and connect people to the natural world.

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