Bear Rocks area of the Dolly Sods Wilderness in Grant Co, WV.
Dolly Sods Wilderness occupies the lower half of the drainage of the north fork of Red Creek. Red Creek begins on the high plateau of Allegheny Mountain, a flat, poorly drained area. As the stream crosses into what is now wilderness, it begins to cut down through the plateau, creating a steep-sided canyon. As it leaves the wilderness, it joins with the south fork of Red Creek and continues on to the Dry Fork River. Because of this, the northern section of the wilderness is high-elevation plateau, wind-swept and boggy. Patches of native red spruce, alder, maple, and mountain ash mingle with plantations of pine, upland heath, and sphagnum bogs. The area is generally open, with wide-spreading vistas. Huckleberries and cranberries are common in the heath and bog areas. As Red Creek and its tributaries, Big Stonecoal and Little Stonecoal Runs, leave the plateau; they become more forested, with a number of hardwood trees including maple, birch, and black cherry. Hemlock is a common conifer along the drains as well. Underneath the trees are thickets of rhododendron and mountain laurel. Red Creek itself changes from a pleasant meandering stream to a dynamic, tumbling watercourse, with several small waterfalls and swirling pothole areas. Red Creek is well known to flash flood because the high ridge of Allegheny Mountain, the eastern continental divide, catches storms. When enough rain has fallen to lighten the clouds, they finally sail on east. Interestingly enough, Allegheny Mountain also catches storms coming from the east, most notably those associated with hurricanes, which also dump water into Red Creek.
The Dolly Sods area was first explored by Thomas Lewis during a survey in 1746 to find the limits of Lord Fairfax’s land grant from the British Crown. The area was generally avoided as too impenetrable until the late 1800’s. The exploitation of West Virginia’s coal and timber resources got under way in the 1870’s and by the late 1890’s, the railroad had reached Davis, WV. In 1902, a band saw mill was built at Laneville, WV, with a railroad from the Dry Fork to service it. Logging camps sprang up throughout Dolly Sods as the virgin forest was cleared away to feed the hungry mills. By 1920, very little virgin forest remained in West Virginia. During this time, the Dahle family homesteaded a few acres in the area. By burning the logged areas once, they could get a good grass cover for grazing. These open fields were known as “Sods”. Unfortunately, the amount of slash left behind coupled with the drying of the rich, peat-like soil, and the continual sparks from the trains contributed to repeated burning. This killed the grass and left only bracken fern to grow, no good for man or beast. The Dahle family eventually moved on, leaving only their name behind, Americanized into “Dolly Sods”. The United States government purchased the first pieces of this area in 1916, adding it to the new and growing Monongahela National Forest. During the 1930’s Civilian Conservation Corps enrollees planted pine in an effort to reforest the area and prevent erosion and downstream flooding. In 1943, in a cooperative agreement with the army, the area was used as a practice artillery and mortar range and maneuver area before troops were sent to Europe to fight in World War II. See our special notice below for more on this. The area was designated into the National Wilderness Preservation System in 1975 with the passage of the so-called “Eastern Wilderness Act”. It is now managed under that law and the Wilderness Act of 1964 to be a place where protection of natural processes is the highest priority use for this area.
Dolly Sods Wilderness is 10,215 acres in size. Trails do not have blazes and may or may not have signs. Most signs are expected to disappear over time as they are damaged and not replaced. Large rock cairns will mark major trail junctions, and smaller cairns may mark areas where the trail location is confusing. Deadfall trees will be made so that they are reasonably passable, but will not be completely cleared. This will help retain some of the naturalness of the area. No bridges are provided over streams. Please, do not remove or disturb artifacts of the past. These chunks of old glass and metal, railroad spikes, and horseshoes are a reminder of our past and that this area was once subject to human alteration. Leave them here so that all can marvel at how far the land has returned to naturalness.