On July 15th, 20 nature lovers met at Blackwater Falls State Park to learn about the characteristics of old growth forest in an event presented by Friends of Blackwater. The event was led by naturalist Doug Wood, who gave practical lessons on how to identify old growth, as well as some information on the ways that these ecosystems benefit wildlife and water quality. Some of the streams with the highest level of biological health (as assessed by the West Virginia Stream Condition Index) are found in old growth areas, and are used as reference areas in scientific studies. Wood also showed examples of songbirds that prefer to nest in old growth and black bears using large snags (dead standing trees) in old growth forests as dens.
In the background of this presentation was the recent controversy over timbering in state parks, which prompted people to learn more about state park forests and start inventorying existing old growth. In fact, during that debate, a survey conducted in Watoga State Park revealed a large patch of old growth forest that would have been included in the proposed logging area. Better information about park resources and the ecological role of these older forests can hopefully lead to better management decisions.
After an introductory slideshow that documented old growth forests throughout the state, the group headed out into the park to look for real-world examples and practice measuring trees. West Virginia’s State Parks are a great place to see mature and old growth forest, although in parks that were logged in the past the remnants that survived may be in more remote areas. Wood emphasized that it is important to respect park rules when searching for old growth, and when in doubt, check with the park staff to see which areas you are allowed to access. For the event on the 25th there was no question, since the group was joined by park naturalist Paulita Cousins for the outdoor portion of the event.