Representatives of the Old Growth Forest Network conducted a dedication ceremony at Gaudineer Scenic Area last Thursday to make the area an official part of the network. Students and teachers from Alleghany High School in Covington, Virginia, attended the ceremony as part of an overnight wilderness ecology field trip. G. Hamill photo.
Representatives of the Old Growth Forest Network conducted a dedication ceremony at Gaudineer Scenic Area last Thursday to make the area an official part of the network. Students and teachers from Alleghany High School in Covington, Virginia, attended the ceremony as part of an overnight wilderness ecology field trip. G. Hamill photo.

Old growth forest is ancient forest that has not been cut or disturbed for time immemorial. Old growth forests are left-alone places where people can get a glimpse of how the landscape looks without any human development or commercial exploitation. The vast majority of those forests are gone. Less than one-percent of eastern old growth forests and five percent of western old growth forests remain in the U.S.

In 2011, Joan Maloof, Professor Emeritus at Salisbury University, founded the Old Growth Forest Network (OGFN) to reverse the decline of old growth forests and promote forest protection in general. The group has the ambitious goal to dedicate a forever wild forest in 3,140 U.S. counties, where forest naturally grows. “One forest in each county, open to the public, which will never again be logged,” states an OGFN handout.

Last Thursday morning, Gaudineer Scenic Area on Shavers Mountain became the 44th forest to be dedicated into the OGFN. Maloof and OGFN Coordinator Turner Sharp arrived as the advance party for the dedication. Shortly thereafter, school teacher Jane DeGroot arrived with a group of 25 honors students from Alleghany County, Virginia.

Maloof said old growth forest was mostly forgotten until about 25 years ago.

“We had no idea what was left, if anything,” she said. “Finally, in the 1990s, a woman named Mary Byrd Davis started doing a survey. She called state-by-state in the East and talked to the people who would know and asked how much was left. She put together some numbers and it turns out that less than one percent of our original forest remains. So now, we’re just dealing with pockets of tens of acres. It’s just amazing to think it used to be millions of acres.”

Maloof was enjoying her first visit to Pocahontas County.

“It is beautiful,” she said. “This loop trail at Gaudineer Scenic Area is just idyllic and it’s very well interpreted. I’m very excited to share it today with this group of honors high school students who came out today.”

DeGroot, of White Sulphur Springs, teaches biology at Alleghany High School and is a co-director of the Field Ecology Governor’s School in Virginia. After reading one of Maloof’s books, she volunteered to be the OGFN coordinator for Pocahontas County. In addition to taking part in the forest dedication, the students were participating in an overnight wilderness ecology field trip.

“What we’re hoping for is an experience in which they spend time in the forest, including some time alone, and became one of the other organisms around them” she said. “We’re hoping they’ll learn to not be afraid and realize how biodiverse it is and what a beautiful place forests are. They’ll take that back with them and, having known a forest, will become more proactive toward preservation, ecology and environmental issues.”

Sharp is the Fayette County coordinator for the OGFN and is helping Maloof locate other patches of old growth forest in West Virginia.

“I’m amazed at people’s lack of appreciation and knowledge of what an old growth forest was,” he said. “Joan’s program is helping to alleviate that.”

The timber on Shavers Mountain was almost completely clear-cut between 1900 and 1930, but a 900-acre tract was spared due to a surveying error. In the 1930s, the Forest Service acquired a 140-acre parcel of virgin spruce forest that had remained mostly undisturbed. Monongahela National Forest Supervisor Arthur Wood wanted future generations to be able to experience an original Appalachian red spruce forest. The area includes 50 acres of virgin red spruce forest and 90 acres in which timber was harvested after storm blowdowns.

For more information on the OGFN, see oldgrowthforest.net on the Internet.