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The Monongahela National Forest (MNF) was established by the U.S. Congress in 1915 as the "Monongahela Purchase". It became a U.S. National Forest on April 28, 1920 and now encompasses . It is located in the Allegheny Mountains of eastern West Virginiamarker, USA and includes parts of 10 West Virginia counties including much of the Potomac Highlands Region.

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 Knobmarker (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 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 Areamarker.

Forest administration

The MNF is administered from the main headquarters in Elkins, West Virginiamarker and six ranger districts. The Forest has approximately 105 permanent employees, with this force augmented by Senior Citizens, temporary employees, and volunteers.

Ranger Districts

The Monongahela is currently divided into four ranger districts. The Cheat-Potomac and Marlinton-White Sulphur Springs were formed by combining their namesake districts; in the merged districts, the offices for both constituent districts were retained.


The Monongahela National Forest was established following passage of the Weeks Act in 1911. This act authorized the purchase of land for long-term watershed protection and natural resource management following the massive cutting of the Eastern forests in the late 1800s and early 1900s. In 1915, were acquired to begin the forest, called the Monongahela Purchase, and on 28 April 1920 it became the Monongahela National Forest. By the end of 1924, the MNF had a total ownership of some .

In 1943 and 1944, as part of the West Virginia Maneuver Area, the U.S. Army used parts of the MNF as a practice artillery and mortar range and maneuver area before troops were sent to Europe to fight in World War II. Artillery and mortar shells shot into the area for practice are still occasionally found there today. Seneca Rocks and other area cliffs were also used for assault climbing instruction. This was the Army's only low-altitude mountain assault climbing school.

Statistics and general information


  • Land area:
  • Wilderness areas:
  • Roads:
  • Visitor centers: 2 (Cranberry Mountain Nature Center and Seneca Rocks Discovery Center)
  • Designated Scenic Areas: 3
  • Visitor observation towers: 2 (Bickle Knobmarker Tower and Olson Tower)
  • Picnic areas: 17
  • Campgrounds: 23
  • Snowmobile areas: 1 (Highland Scenic Highway)
  • ATV areas: 0
  • Wildlife management units (managed with West Virginia Division of Natural Resources): 10
  • Warm-water fishing steams:
  • Trout streams:
  • 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

Natural features

  • Wilderness areas: 8
  • Rivers and stream miles: ???

Sensitive species

  • Sensitive plants and wildlife: 50
  • Threatened & endangered species: 9


The topography of the MNF ranges in elevation from about at Petersburgmarker to at Spruce Knob. A rain shadow effect caused by slopes of the Allegheny Front results in 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 open areas with exposed rocks. In addition to the 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 Sodsmarker 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.

Larger mammals (also considered game species) include black bear, wild turkey, white-tailed deer, gray and fox squirrels, rabbit, snowshoe hare, woodcock, and grouse. Limited waterfowl habitat exists in certain places. Furbearers include beaver, red and gray fox, bobcat, fisher, otter, raccoon and mink. Other hunted species include coyotes, skunk, opossum, woodchucks, crow, and weasels. There are 12 species of game/pan fish and 60 species of nongame/forage fish. Some 90% of the trout waters of West Virginia are within 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 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.


  • Bear Heaven Campground
  • Big Bend Campground
  • Big Rock Campground
  • Bird Run Campground
  • Bishop Knob Campground
  • Blue Bend Recreation Area
  • Cranberry Campground
  • Cranberry River Sites
  • Day Run Campground
  • Gatewood Group Camp
  • Horseshoe Campground
  • Island Campground
  • Jess Judy Group Campground
  • Lake Sherwood Recreation Area
  • Laurel Fork Campground
  • Middle Mountain Cabins
  • Pocahontas Campground
  • Red Creek Campground
  • Seneca Shadows Campground
  • Spruce Knob Lake Campground
  • Stuart Campground
  • Stuart Group Campground
  • Summit Lake Campground
  • Tea Creek Campground
  • Williams River sites

Commercial resources

The Forest administration maintains wildlife and timber programs aimed at managing a diverse mix of tree species and ages. About 81 percent of the total Forest area is closed canopy forest over 60 years of age. The tree species most valuable for timber and for wildlife food in the MNF are black cherry and oaks. The Forest's commercial timber sale program averages 30 mbf (million board feet) of timber sold per year with a yearly average value of $7.5 million. A variety of cutting techniques are used, from cutting of single trees to clearcutting blocks up to in size. Regeneration cuts (clearcuts or other treatments designed to start a new timber stand) occur on approximately yearly out of the more than forest total.

Mineral resources located in the MNF include coal, gas, limestone, and gravel; but not oil. Sheep and cattle grazing occurs on about .

Receipts for timber, grazing, land uses, minerals, and recreation use averaged $4,840,466 annually between FY92 and FY96, and 25% of that (an average of $1,210,116 per year) was returned to counties that include MNF lands. This money is intended for use by local schools and for roads. The remaining 75% each year is returned to the U.S. Treasury.

Areas of interest within the MNF

U.S. Wilderness Areas

Registered National Natural Landmarks

Canada geese in Spruce Knob Lake.

Stands of old growth forest

Other features

Photo gallery

Image:Monongahela National Forest - Entrance Gate.jpg|Entrance gate along Old US 33 east of Elkinsmarker.Image:NorthForkMountain.wmg.jpg|North Fork MountainImage:Seneca Rocks West Virginia USA.jpg|Seneca RocksImage:BlackwaterCanyon.jpg|Blackwater CanyonImage:BackAlleghenyMountain.jpg|Back Allegheny MountainImage:Monongahela National Forest - Middle Mountain Cabins.jpg|Middle Mountain CabinsImage:DouglasFallsWV.JPG|Douglas Falls on the North Fork Blackwater RiverImage:Highland scenic highway.jpg|Highland Scenic HighwayImage:Lake Sherwood (West Virginia).jpg|Lake SherwoodmarkerImage:Olson Observation Tower.jpg|Olson Observation TowerImage:RoaringPlains.jpg|Roaring Plains Wildernessmarker

See also



Other sources

  • McKim, C.R. (1970), Monongahela National Forest History, Unpublished manuscript available at the Monongahela National Forest Office, Elkins, West Virginiamarker.
  • de Hart, Allen and Bruce Sundquist (2006), Monongahela National Forest Hiking Guide, 8th edition, West Virginia Highlands Conservancy, Charleston, West Virginiamarker.
  • This article contains information that originally came from US Government publications and websites and is in the public domain.

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