Sunday, July 29, 2012

A Walk in the Woods (but not just any woods)

A killer is stalking them—okay, granted, it is just a tiny bug, but still it kills them. With their existence threatened, I didn’t want to wait very long to go see them again. When I found out that Anna had never been to Cathedral State Park, I wanted her to see this majestic old-growth hemlock tree forest before it was too late. Anna was a Knight of the Golden Horseshoe (a West Virginia state history award for 8th graders), so she knew all about Cathedral State Park, but had never had the chance to visit there.

We left Morgantown and headed for Preston County. We stopped for lunch at Monroe’s Restaurant in Kingwood. It is an interesting old place that is on the list of 101 best restaurants in West Virginia ( We parked on the courthouse square and walked around a bit exploring the town.

Back in the car, we left Kingwood and headed downhill to the Cheat River, where we turned right onto Route 72. We paralleled this beautiful river for most of this trip, including views of the Cheat Narrows where we recently had kayaked. Beyond where our whitewater trip had started, we came to the town of Rowlesburg. This is a bigger town that I had imagined. I remember reading about the damages there in the big flood back in 1985—it must have been devastating.

Further upstream from Rowlesburg, Route 72 meets U.S. Route 50. Taking a left onto Route 50, we continued running alongside the rippling rocks and waters of the Cheat. Finally, the road veers left, leaving the river for an assault on the mountain. Up and up you go, through many a curve until you finally reach the top. In the era before Interstate highway travel was common, highways like U.S. 50 were major thoroughfares, carrying a lot more traffic than they do today. I’m glad on this particular day we didn’t have to follow any 18 wheelers up the hill.

We soon arrived at Cathedral State Park, parked the car, and headed for the trails. Cathedral is one of the last stands of virgin hemlock forest left in the state. Much of eastern America was covered in hemlock forests when the white man arrived and cut most of them down. Hemlock trees had become the dominant species over time, because they grow so high and block the sunlight, plus their bark and needles that they shed helps to make the soil more acidic, which they enjoy but others don’t. There are a number of trees in the park that are more than a hundred feet high. Some of the tree trunks are 20 feet in circumference. A babbling brook meanders along its way. It seems like a magical forest!

We hiked around most of the trails in this small state park (133 acres). One that I had never been on before near the park boundary had a long straight downhill section that was “sunken.” We wondered if it had been an old trail or road at one time, but I saw on-line where it had been a “log slide” from when the neighboring property had been timbered.

Fortunately, the trees in Cathedral were never cut down. The last private owner, Mr. Brandon Haas, sold it to the state in 1942 with the provision that it never be cut down. We all owe Mr. Haas our gratitude for sharing his trees with us! It should be noted that there are other small pockets of virgin hemlock on private lands around the state. Another place where one can see them is on the TreeTops Canopy Tour near the New River Gorge Bridge. I’ve “zipped” on their zip line tour a few times through their hemlock trees and they are also a sight to behold. Unfortunately, a little bug from Asia called an adelgid sucks the sap of hemlock trees until they die. Let’s hope that scientists are able to preserve the hemlocks from this invasive pest.

Rather than re-trace our route back to Morgantown, we continued heading east on Route 50, and soon crossed into the bottom corner of western Maryland. We turned left onto U.S. Route 219 and ventured north (alongside a mountain ridge topped with wind turbines) to Oakland, the county seat of Garrett County, Maryland. It is a quaint old railroad town. We continued north to the Deep Creek Lake/Wisp ski resort area, which is a big vacation destination for some eastern city dwellers who want to get out of the Baltimore/Washington heat and head for the mountains. Our original plan was to eat at one of our favorite restaurants there called “Canoe on the Run” but then we remembered it is only open for breakfast and lunch. If you are ever in that area during those times, it is a great place to eat.

We drove into Friendsville and checked out the rafting companies and the public whitewater access for the Youghiogheny River (for future reference). Then we jumped onto I-68 for the short drive back to Morgantown.

Finally, perhaps I should mention that Cathedral State Park is located adjacent to the community of Aurora, West Virginia. With the recent tragedy at the cinema in Aurora, Colorado, we reflected on this terrible loss of innocent lives. Aurora is such a neat name for a community, but it is a shame that a mad man can give one another angle to think about when you hear the word. I hope the victims rest in peace.

Hugging a hemlock tree in Cathedral State Park.

No comments:

Post a Comment