The Monongahela National Forest is a national forest located in the Allegheny Mountains of eastern West Virginia, USA. It protects over 921,000 acres (3,727 km2; 1,439 sq mi) of federally owned land within a 1,700,000 acres (6,880 km2; 2,656 sq mi) proclamation boundary that includes much of the Potomac Highlands Region and portions of 10 counties.
The MNF includes some major landform features such as the Allegheny Front and the western portion of the Ridge-and-Valley Appalachians. Within the Forest are most of the highest mountain peaks in the state, including the highest, Spruce Knob (4,863 ft), also the highest point in the Alleghenies. Approximately 75 tree species are found in the Forest. Almost all of the trees are a second growth forest, grown back after the land was heavily cutover around the turn of the 19th to 20th century. Species for which the Forest is important include red spruce (Picea rubens), balsam fir (Abies balsamea), and mountain ash (Sorbus americana).
The MNF includes eight U.S. Wilderness Areas and several special-use areas, notably the Spruce Knob-Seneca Rocks National Recreation Area.
Statistics and general information
- Land area: over 919,000 acres (3,719 km2)
- Wilderness areas: 94,991 acres (384 km2)
- Roads: 570 miles (920 km)
- Visitor centers: 2 (Cranberry Mountain Nature Center and Seneca Rocks Discovery Center)
- Designated Scenic Areas: 3
- Visitor observation towers: 2 (Bickle Knob Tower and Olson Tower)
- Picnic areas: 17
- Campgrounds: 23
- Snowmobile areas: 1 (Highland Scenic Highway)
- Wildlife management areas (managed with West Virginia Division of Natural Resources): 10
- Warm-water fishing steams: 129 miles (208 km)
- Trout streams: 578 miles (930 km)
- Impoundments (reservoirs): 5
- Trails: 825 miles (1,327 km)
- Outside Wilderness Areas: 660 miles (1,062 km), not counting the 3 newest wildernesses
- In Wilderness Areas: 165 miles (265 km), not counting the 3 newest wildernesses
- Sensitive plants and wildlife: 50
- Threatened & endangered species: 9
The MNF encompasses most of the southern third of the Allegheny Mountains range (a section of the vast Appalachian Mountains
range) and is entirely within the state of West Virginia. Elevations within the MNF range from about 900 feet (270 m) at Petersburg
to 4,863 feet (1,482 m) at Spruce Knob. A rain shadow effect caused by slopes of the Allegheny Front results in 60 inches (1,500 mm) of annual precipitation on the west side and about half that on the east side.
Headwaters of six major river systems are located within the forest: Monongahela, Potomac, Greenbrier, Elk, Tygart, and Gauley. Twelve rivers are currently under study for possible inclusion in the National Wild and Scenic Rivers System.
The Forest is noted for its rugged landscape with spectacular views, blueberry thickets, highland bogs and "sods", and open areas with exposed rocks. In addition to the second-growth forest trees, the wide range of botanical species found includes rhododendron, laurel on the moist west side of the Allegheny Front, and cactus and endemic shale barren species on the drier eastern slopes.
There are 230 known species of birds inhabiting the MNF: 159 are known to breed there, 89 are Neotropical migrants; 71 transit the Forest during migration, but do not breed there, and 17 non-breeding species are Neotropical. The Brooks Bird Club (BBC) conducts an annual bird banding and survey project in the vicinity of Dolly Sods Scenic Area during migration (August - September). The Forest provides habitat for 9 federally listed endangered or threatened species: 2 bird species, 2 bat species, 1 subspecies of flying squirrel, 1 salamander species, and 3 plant species. Fifty other species of rare/sensitive plants and animals also occur in the forest.
The MNF is a recreation destination and major tourism attraction, hosting approximately 3 million visitors annually. The extensive backwoods road and trail system is available for hiking, mountain biking, horse riding. There are many miles of railroad grades that are a link in the recreation use of the Forest. (The longest is the Glady to Durbin West Fork Railroad Trail which is 23 miles (37 km) long.) Recreation ranges from self reliant treks in the wildernesses and backcountry areas to the challenges of mountain climbing to traditional developed site camping. Canoeing, hunting, trapping, fishing, and wildlife viewing are also popular uses.
Areas of interest within the MNF
U.S. Wilderness Areas:
- Big Draft Wilderness, 5,144 acres (21 km2)
- Cranberry Wilderness, 47,815 acres (194 km2)
- Dolly Sods Wilderness, 17,371 acres (70 km2)
- Laurel Fork North Wilderness, 6,055 acres (25 km2)
- Laurel Fork South Wilderness, 5,784 acres (23 km2)
- Otter Creek Wilderness, 20,698 acres (84 km2)
- Roaring Plains West Wilderness, 6,792 acres (27 km2)
- Spice Run Wilderness, 6,030 acres (24 km2)