half-mile loop trail leads through a lush, green
setting with moss, lichens and lots of big trees in
the Gaudineer Scenic Area in Monongahela National
W.Va. ó The Gaudineer Scenic Area is what West Virginiaís
mountain highlands originally looked like.
140-acre tract is dominated by virgin and second-growth
red spruce, the tree that once thrived and flourished on
West Virginiaís mountain tops.
spruce thrives at elevations of 3,800 feet and higher. The
result: dark green ridge tops and northern islands through
the West Virginia Highlands.
Gaudineer red spruce are big: up to 40 inches in diameter
at breast height and 250 years old. There are also yellow
birch, beech, red and sugar maple and other hardwoods. It
is a touch of New England or Canada on the West Virginia
area is to be managed in an undisturbed condition for
study and enjoyment. The forest only survived because of a
surveying mistake decades ago. Today the Gaudineer is one
of the few old-growth forests in West Virginia easily
accessible to visitors.
sits atop Shavers Mountain in West Virginiaís sprawling
919,000-acre Monongahela National Forest. Itís just
north of Gaudineer Knob on the border between Randolph and
Pocahontas counties. The 4,432-foot peak is the highest
spot on Shavers Mountain, a ridge in the heart of the
is about 5 1/2 miles from Durbin off U.S. 250 and U.S.
Forest Service roads.
Greenbrier River lies to the east. Shavers Fork of the
Cheat River lies to the west. The scenic area is the
headwaters of Glade Run and Old Road Run, tributaries of
the Cheat and the West Fork of the Greenbrier,
Gaudineer Scenic Area was designated in October 1964 by
the U.S. Forest Service. It has also been designated a
National Natural Landmark, one of 15 in West Virginia. In
1983, the Society of American Foresters honored the scenic
area as an outstanding example of a vegetative community
in near-natural condition dedicated for scientific and
includes 50 acres of virgin and second-growth red spruce
and 90 acres where selective timber has been cut in
salvage operations over the years after storm blowdowns.
Most of the original growth in the 90-acre tract is still
you can explore the area on the half-mile loop of the
Virgin Spruce Trail off Forest Service Road No. 27. The
yellow-blazed trail is an easy hike with interpretive
signs into a world of green: needles, moss-covered trunks,
leafy green understory.
are thick-trunked 100-foot-high giants, plus birch, ash,
cherry and maples. The understory and ground cover include
rhododendron, moosewood, new-growth spruce and birch,
ferns, wood sorrel, mosses, wood shamrock, trilliums and
trees, standing and downed, are big, very big. The downed
trees have massive root systems that may stand 10 to 12
feet tall off the ground, twisted into grotesque shapes.
giants are starting to come down from old age, disease and
winds. New trees are springing up from the rotting,
moss-covered trunks of old trees that were toppled
earlier. There are huge gaps in the canopy above where the
giants have fallen.
are posted warning visitors against hiking the Virgin
Spruce Trail (Trail No. 374) on windy days because of
danger from falling branches and thin-rooted trees.
are great views to the west from the Gaudineer picnic
officials say the entire 140-acre tract contains at least
1.5 million board feet of timber, but a surveyor omitted
the 1,000-acre triangular tract because he failed to
correct between true north and magnetic north.
area around Gaudineer was thoroughly clear-cut between
1900 and 1930. Major wildfires followed. The giant trees
survived, although there is extensive evidence of those
fires on charred trunks.
tract was eventually purchased by the Forest Service at
the insistence of former Monongahela forest supervisor
Arthur A. Wood, who believed that future generations
should know what an Appalachian spruce forest was like. It
was named after a federal ranger, Don Gaudineer, who died
in 1936 trying to rescue his children from a house fire.
Virginia once had about 469,000 acres of red spruce. Those
forests produced 100,000 board feet per acre. Most have
been logged. Only about 50,000 acres have produced
second-growth red spruce forests.
Gaudineer Scenic Area is part of a larger primitive
backcountry that is popular with backpackers, hikers and
cross-country skiers. Gaudineer Knob is well known to
birders because of the warblers and thrushes that can be
found in its boreal woods.
1940 study by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service reported
that Gaudineer had the highest concentration of birds per
acre in the United States. The birds are at their best
from May to July.
can also access the yellow-blazed cross-West Virginia
Allegheny Trail in the scenic area. It will eventually
stretch 330 miles from Preston County on the West
Virginia-Pennsylvania border south to Monroe County on the
West Virginia-Virginia border. About 20 miles must still
be completed. For information, go to .
of the biggest tourist attractions near Gaudineer Knob is
the Cheat Mountain Salamander. The Durbin & Greenbrier
Valley Railroad offers rides on the historic train, a
self-propelled John Deere-powered rail car. The Salamanderís
2013 season ended in October when a logging truck crashed
into the train.
Salamander, named for a local amphibian, runs on a
one-time lumber and coal route that parallels Shaverís
Fork of the Cheat River.
railroad offers 9-hour, 128-mile trips from the Elkins
Depot. The train goes to the old logging town of Spruce on
Cheat Mountain with its red spruce forests. Trips are
offered from July to October. Tickets are $79 for adults,
$68 for children 4 to 11, $77 for senior citizens and $76
for military. You can also board at Cheat Bridge for a
3-hour, 30-mile round trip: $42 for adults, $40 for
seniors, $34 for children 4 to 11 and $39 for military.
railroad has several other train options, too. For
reservations and more information, call 304-636-9477 or