small log cabin serves as a Civil War museum at West
Virginia's Droop Mountain State Park.
W.Va. — The Beartown rocks are very cool and maybe a
you will find is a puzzling but intriguing network of
overhanging sandstone cliffs, deep crevasses and massive
boulders. You are walking through greenish canyons on a
boardwalk. The greenish tint comes from moss and lichens.
a magical and enchanting place, like a rocky labyrinth
from a fairy tale. It has a special aura.
will find little-known Beartown State Park off U.S. 219,
southwest of Hillsboro in Pocahontas and Greenbrier
counties in southeast West Virginia. The 107-acre natural
area is located on the eastern summit of Droop Mountain.
name comes from the local legend that black bears
sometimes winter in the rocky caves, and from the deep
crevasses that formed in something of a crisscross
pattern, appearing from above like the streets in a small
the way, the bears move in and out of the park and you are
unlikely to see one on your visit.
park’s sheer volume of exposed rock creates a kind of
geologic wonderland. Visitors find themselves dropped into
the middle of a maze with rocks above, below and at eye
rocks are composed of Droop or Pottsville sandstone formed
300 million years ago. That 30-foot-thick layer sits atop
Droop Mountain. Under it is a layer of softer shale that
is eroding away. That means less support for the
sandstone, which is slowly slumping downhill, creating
cracks and fissures.
result is crevasses from 30 to 50 feet deep that look and
feel like sunken streets in a town of rocks, far enough
apart to build walkways. The cliff faces are pocked with
hundreds of pits from erodible materials in the stone.
They range from tiny to very large.
is dark, cool, shady and even a little bit eerie. Moss and
ferns grow from pockets in the rock and provide the
dominant green color. Trees cling to the rock walls,
sending roots into small cracks. Lichens flourish on the
is often foggy at Beartown with its elevation of 3,425
feet and that adds to its mystique.
are urged to stay on the boardwalk in order to protect the
natural resources and for safety.
troubling change is clearly visible: Hemlock trees in its
ravines are dead and dying. The park was home to one of
West Virginia’s last old-growth hemlock forests.
trees are being wiped out by the hemlock woolly adelgid,
an aphid-like insect from Japan. It feeds on sap in the
needles, causing defoliation, and eventually the decline
and death of the tree. The long-term outlook for hemlocks
at Beartown and in the Appalachians is bleak.
is already evidence of forest succession at Beartown where
young black birches are replacing the hemlocks, said
Superintendent Mike Smith.
and snow are frequently found in the heavily shaded
crevasses until mid- to late-summer.
park itself is open from April to October or by making
arrangements. In the winter, you can park at the locked
gate and hike in. Admission is free.
is a no-frills park. There is little in terms of
development except the boardwalk, a few signs, a small
picnic area, well water and basic bathroom facilities.
Development has been minimized in order to preserve the
state acquired the land in 1970 with funds from the Nature
Conservancy and a donation from Mrs. Edwin Polan of
Huntington, in memory of her son, Ronald K. Neal, who died
viewing platform at the southeast corner of the exposed
rock is handicapped accessible. There is a 250-foot-long
trail from the handicapped parking to the platform. Much
of the boardwalk is not accessible because of stairs.
is West Virginia’s smallest state park. It gets about
30,000 visitors a year. For more information, call
304-653-4254 or 800-CALLWVA, or see .
Mountain is very close to Beartown, on a plateau
overlooking the pretty Greenbrier River Valley. It was the
site of West Virginia’s last significant Civil War
Nov. 6, 1863, federal troops under Brig. Gen. William
Averell attempted to disrupt the Virginia-Tennessee
Railroad and faced Confederate troops under the command of
Brig. Gen. John Echols.
smaller Confederate force held the high ground and blocked
the highway with artillery. But he was outflanked and
forced to retreat south into Virginia. Federal troops
occupied Lewisburg on Nov. 7.
operations in Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley in spring
1864 drew Confederates out of West Virginia. A total of
7,000 troops were involved in the battle, with 400
federal Civilian Conservation Camp from the mid-1930s was
built on the old battlefield. Its workers built a popular
wooden observation tower at the park.
you will find a small Civil War museum in a log cabin at
Droop Mountain. Nearby is a Confederate cemetery.
are eight short trails in the 285-acre park off U.S. 219
in Pocohontas County. That includes the Minie Ball Trail,
the Musket Trail and the Old Soldier Trail, all filled
with history. Interpretive signs are posted throughout the
will find Civil War trenches along the Overlook Trail on
the park’s north side, and the place where dead horses
were disposed of along Horse Heaven Trail on the west
side. The trails also go to scenic overlooks, small caves,
springs and a high-elevation cranberry bog.
Mountain is a stop on the Civil War Discovery Trail that
links 634 sites in 34 states. For information, call
800-CWTRUST or see
or call 304-653-4254.
nearby attraction is the birthplace of author Pearl S.
Buck, who wrote the novel "The Good Earth." She
became the first female author to win the Pulitzer and
was born in 1892 to missionary parents at what today is
called the Pearl S. Buck Birthplace Museum. She was born
in the house on June 26, 1892, but traveled regularly
between China and West Virginia with her parents. She
visited the house throughout her lifetime and spent 40
years of her life in China.
house is off U.S. 219 just north of Hillsboro and is
listed on the National Register of Historic Places. It was
built by the Stultings, her maternal grandparents, between
1860 and 1880.
is open from May through October. It is open from 10 a.m.
to 4 p.m. Monday, Thursday, Friday and Saturday. Tours are
offered at 10:30 a.m. and 12:30 and 2:30 p.m. Admission is
$6 for adults, $5 for senior citizens and $3 for students.
The house is at 8129 Seneca Trail, Hillsboro.
information, call 304-653-4430 or