Located in West Virginia’s Monongahela National Forest in Tucker and Randolph Counties, Dolly Sods and the Dolly Sods Wilderness and Scenic Area encompass some of the most spectacular scenery in the Mountain State with an assortment of natural treasures. Dolly Sods lies within the rugged Allegheny Plateau region of the state and has the highest plateau of its type east of the Mississippi with elevations ranging from 2,600 feet to more than 4,000 feet. The region is filled with Northern hardwood forests, thick spruce plantings, open glades and bogs along miles of low-rise blueberry, mountain laurel and azalea. Steep canyons are carved by a boulder-filled Red Creek with sweeping rocky vistas that open up to the deep valleys below.
Visitors often ponder how the rocky areas created over time affect present-day soils, how the soil and climate together affect vegetation and wildlife interacting with one other. But probably the most important ecological consideration in how Dolly Sods was formed was how human interaction played a role in forming the landscape.The original ecosystem of Dolly Sods was once a thriving Red Spruce Forest. The forest was said to be impressive; individual trees grew to 90 feet tall with a 4-foot diameter. During the timber rush of the late 1800’s, hot fires were built in the region and used as a logging technique along with Neolithic slash and burn agricultural methods to create grazing lands or ‘sods’ in the area. The pioneer Dahle family of the 1800’s used the sods for grazing around the turn of the century. Their German name ‘Dolly’ became the present ‘Dolly’ of Dolly Sods.
In 1943 and ’44, as part of the WVMA (West Virginia Maneuver Area), the U.S. Army used the area for practice artillery, a mortar range and a maneuver area before troops were sent to Europe to fight in World War II. It was estimated that more than 50,000 U.S. troops are estimated to have passed through the region as they trained for service overseas; the training maneuvers were intended to teach soldiers skills that they would need for fighting in the mountains of Italy. Cabin Mountain and Blackbird Knob served as designated targets and many of the artillery and mortar shells (60 mm and 81 mm rounds) shot into the area still exist there. Careful attention is still being taken to ensure that the public is aware of the presence of these UXO’s (Unexploded Ordinance) that still exist in the area. The exact amount of UXO does remain undetermined and recreation visitors have encountered these ordinances, some of which caused severe injury. One documented case was in 1951 when current USACE team member Wallace Dean was injured after a friend of Dean picked up a live ordinance and sat it down by Dean’s legs. The UXO exploded and caused severe damage to Dean’s legs. Fortunately he was able to walk again within a year.
But aside from the UXO dilemma, many of West Virginia’s 67 mammal species can also be found in the Dolly Sods area; some of those include shrews, moles, bats, mice, jumping mice, voles and other small mammals such as the eastern chipmunk and several kinds of squirrels including the endangered West Virginia Northern Flying Squirrel. Larger mammals in the area include opossums, raccoon, woodchuck, striped skunk, beaver, muskrat, mink along with rabbits, and weasels. There have also been sightings of red and gray foxes, bobcat, bears, white-tailed deer and mountain lions. No one is certain whether the elusive cougar still exists in the wild in West Virginia. At least 100 species of birds nest around Dolly Sods, some of which include the red-eyed vireo, purple finch, bobolink, dark-eyed junco and woodpeckers. Migrating raptors also exist there, which include the golden eagles, peregrine, kestrel, and merlin falcons along with osprey, harrier, red-tailed, red-shouldered and broad-winged hawks. Dolly Sods’ cold climate is not favorable to many cold-blooded reptiles and amphibians but they do exist there. The rare and endangered Cheat Mountain salamander is found in its red spruce forests while reptiles such as water snakes, snapping turtles, rattlesnakes and copperheads are common.
For more information contact the USDA Forest Service at (304) 636-1800.
Venable, Norma Jean; Payne, Ann. “Dolly Sods” Parsons, W.Va. McClain Printing Co. (January 2001).
Metcalf & Eddy, Inc., 1991, Feasibility Study Dolly Sods Wilderness: Final Work Plan for Surface and Subsurface Investigation and On-Site Disposal of Ordnance. Prepared for USACE, Huntsville District, Huntsville, AL.
Wikipedia. “Dolly Sods Wilderness.” Creative Commons Attribution. 2011. Wikimedia Foundation. 25 Sept 2011