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Dolly Sods Wilderness
Part of Monongahela National Forest
Wilderness Area
Upper Red Creek in Dolly Sods
Country  United States
State  West Virginia
Counties Grant, Randolph, Tucker
Elevation 3,734 ft (1,138.1 m)
Coordinates 38°59′45″N 79°22′05″W / 38.99583°N 79.36806°W / 38.99583; -79.36806
Highest point Allegheny Mountain at intersection of Grant, Randolph, and Tucker Counties
 - location northwest of Cabins
 - elevation 4,123 ft (1,256.7 m)
 - coordinates 38°57′52″N 79°21′26″W / 38.96444°N 79.35722°W / 38.96444; -79.35722
Lowest point Red Creek
 - location east of Laneville
 - elevation 2,644 ft (805.9 m)
 - coordinates 38°58′23″N 79°23′58″W / 38.97306°N 79.39944°W / 38.97306; -79.39944
Area 17,371 acres (7,029.8 ha) [1][2]
Established 1975-01-03 [1]
Management Monongahela National Forest
Owner USDA Forest Service
IUCN category Ib - Wilderness Area
Nearest city Davis, West Virginia
Location of Dolly Sods Wilderness in West Virginia
Website: Dolly Sods Wilderness

The Dolly Sods Wilderness, or simply Dolly Sods, is a U.S. Wilderness Area in the Allegheny Mountains of eastern West Virginia, USA. It is part of the Monongahela National Forest.



Dolly Sods is the highest plateau of its type east of the Mississippi River with altitude ranging from around 4,000 feet (1,200 m) at the top of a mountain ridge on the Allegheny Front to about 2,700 feet (820 m) at the outlet of Red Creek. The highest point in this immediate area is Mount Porte Crayon, at 4,770 feet (1,454 m), in Flatrock-Roaring Plains.

Dolly Sods is on a ridge crest that forms part of the Eastern Continental Divide. Most of its area is drained by Red Creek, which is a tributary of the Dry Fork River; via the Dry Fork, Black Fork, Cheat, Monongahela and Ohio Rivers, it is part of the Mississippi River watershed. Drainage on the east side of the ridge crest flows into the headwaters of the South Branch of the Potomac River, which is part of the Chesapeake Bay watershed.

Rock formation in Dolly Sods, WV

The 17,371-acre (70 km2) Dolly Sods Wilderness is only part of the 32,000-acre (129 km2) area known as Dolly Sods.[1][2]

Dolly Sods is bordered by a Forest Service road on the east and south side. South of this road is the adjoining Flatrock-Roaring Plains area (which is drained by the South Fork of Red Creek). The northeast end of the Federal land at Dolly Sods is bordered by the Bear Rocks Nature Preserve, owned by The Nature Conservancy. In the Canaan Valley to the west, it is adjoined by the 16,000-acre (65 km2) Canaan Valley National Wildlife Refuge.

Most of Dolly Sods is in Tucker County with small sections in Randolph and Grant Counties.


The Dolly Sods area was first explored by Thomas Lewis during a survey in 1746 to find the limits of Thomas Fairfax, 6th Lord Fairfax of Cameron’s land grant from the British Crown. The area was generally avoided as too impenetrable until the late 1800’s. David Hunter Strother wrote an early description of the area, published in Harper's Monthly magazine in 1852:

"In Randolph County, Virginia, is a tract of country containing from seven to nine hundred square miles, entirely uninhabited, and so savage and inaccessible that it has rarely been penetrated even by the most adventurous. The settlers on its borders speak of it with a sort of dread, and regard it as an ill-omened region, filled with bears, panthers, impassable laurel-brakes, and dangerous precipices. Stories are told of hunters having ventured too far, becoming entangled, and perishing in its intricate labyrinths. The desire of daring the unknown dangers of this mysterious region, stimulated a party of gentlemen . . . to undertake it in June, 1851. They did actually penetrate the country as far as the Falls of the Blackwater, and returned with marvelous accounts of its savage grandeur, and the quantities of game and fish to be found there."
Windblown spruce trees near Bear Rocks, Dolly Sods, WV

The extensive high areas in Dolly Sods and Flatrock-Roaring Plains were once mostly covered by dense, ancient Red Spruce and hemlock forest. The trees were 60 to 90 feet (27 m) tall (18-27 m) and some measured at least 12 feet (370 cm) in diameter. The greatest stand of red spruce in the world, in terms of size and quality, could be found along the upper Red Creek. The largest recorded tree ever cut in West Virginia was a white oak, harvested in this region. Nearly as large as a Giant Sequoia, it was probably well over 1,000 years old and measured 13 feet (4 m) in diameter at a height of 16 feet (5 m), and 10 feet (3 m) in diameter 31 feet (9.4 m) above the base. We will probably never know how large the biggest trees in West Virginia were because the cuttings were not documented. Centuries of accumulated needles from these trees created a blanket of humus (soil) seven to nine feet deep.

Railroad logging made the spruce and hemlocks accessible in the late 1880s and the huge trees were cut down. Shay locomotives climbed the mountain and logging camps sprang up throughout Dolly Sods, clearing away the virgin forest to feed hungry mills. The humus dried up when the protective tree cover was removed. Sparks from railroad locomotives, saw mills and logger's warming fires easily ignited this humus layer and the extensive slash (wood too small to be marketable, such as branches and tree crowns) left behind by loggers. Fires repeatedly ravaged the area in the 1910s, scorching everything right down to the underlying rocks. All insects, worms, salamanders, mice and other burrowing forms of life perished and the area became a desert. The destruction was extraordinary. More than one-tenth of the area of West Virginia state was burned over, including one-fifth of the forest area. The complete clearcut of this ecologically fragile area, followed by extensive wildfires and overgrazing, as well as the ecological stresses of the elevation, have prevented quick regeneration of the forest.

The name Dolly Sods derives from the family name Dahle, a German family who homestead the logged areas, clearing and farming them. Burning the logged areas produced good grass cover for grazing sheep, and these open fields were known as "sods." Locals changed the spelling to "Dolly" and thus the area became known as the Dolly Sods. Repeated burning killed the grass and left only bracken fern, which was useless as fodder. The Dahle family eventually moved on, leaving behind only the Americanized version of their name.

In 1943 and '44, as part of the West Virginia Maneuver Area, the U.S. Army used the area 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 still exist there. In 1997, a crew surveyed the trail locations and known campsites for shells. They found 15, some of which were still live. All were exploded on site. See link for a photo of two shells found in July 2006.

The Omnibus Public Lands Management Act of 2009 added 7,156 acres (2,896 ha) to the original 10,215 acres (4,134 ha) of the Dolly Sods Wilderness.[2] This addition is situated to the north of the original wilderness area in the area previously known as Dolly Sods North.


Today, there are patches of recovering native red spruce forest plus twisted yellow birch, alder, maple, hemlock, black cherry and mountain ash trees amid a matrix of heath-type bushes. Views across the tundra-like windswept open meadows in the northern section of Dolly Sods are reminiscent of Alaskan landscapes.

The whole area is largely colonized by various Ericaceae (heaths): blueberry and cranberry (Vaccinium), huckleberry (Gaylussacia), azalea and rhododendron (both in the genus Rhododendron), mountain laurel (Kalmia), and teaberry (or wintergreen, Gaultheria). The upper sections of Red Creek and its tributaries display sphagnum bogs, complete with rare sundew and reindeer moss.

The term "Sods" now refers to the many boggy areas due to abundant precipitation: the Sods averages more than 100 inches (2,500 mm) of snow each winter. During the winter of 2003, 290 inches (7.3 m) of snow fell in the area, although 160 inches (4 m) is more typical. The Allegheny Front that forms the eastern edge of the plateau is a ridge that catches and holds storms. In the high spots you can see how the trees have been sculpted by the wind – strong winds blowing continuously from the west have caused some trees to have branches only on the east side (they are "flagged").

Because of the high altitude the climate is cool, and plants and animals are more similar to ones found about 1,600 miles (2,600 km) farther north in Canada. Many species found here are near their southernmost range. For example, the snowshoe hare found in Dolly Sods is usually found in Canada and Alaska and is adapted to snow conditions, with its large, hairy feet which allow it to run on the snow surface. Other animals include red and gray foxes, bobcats, black bears, wild turkey, grouse, and white-tailed deer.


Dolly Sods is particularly popular during mid-summer with people who go there to pick blueberries and huckleberries.

In late June extensive and spectacular displays of mountain laurel in flower may be viewed.

There is an extensive network of hiking trails. Some follow old logging railroad grades, and occasionally you see some remnants of railroad ties and metal equipment. Until a 2004 remapping, the USGS and US Forest Service maps of the trails were inaccurate so a mapping site provides good maps with GPS data. Trails include:

  • Dolly Sods
    • Wildlife Trail
    • Rohrbaugh Plains Trail
    • Red Creek Trail
    • Fisher Spring Run Trail
  • Flatrock-Roaring Plains
    • South Prong Trail
    • Boars Nest Trail
    • Roaring Plains Trail
    • Beathed Mountain Trail
    • Big Stonecoal Trail
    • Little Stonecoal Trail

The Spruce Knob-Seneca Rocks National Recreation Area is adjacent to Dolly Sods-Flatrock-Roaring Plains on the east and the south.

See also



Other sources

  • Hall, George A. (1985), "The Birds of the Dolly Sods Area Sortie, 1984", The Redstart, Wheeling, West Virginia, October issue.
  • Hutton, Eugene E. (1988), "Periglacial Features of Dolly Sods,", The Redstart, Wheeling, West Virginia, July issue.
  • Hutton, Eugene E. (1985), "Plant Description of Dolly Sods,", The Redstart, Wheeling, West Virginia, October issue.
  • Pyle, Ann H. (1985), "Ferns and Fern Allies at Dolly Sods,", The Redstart, Wheeling, West Virginia, October issue.
  • Venable, Norma Jean (1996), Dolly Sods, West Virginia Renewable Resources Unique Areas Series 813, West Virginia University Extension Service, Morgantown, West Virginia.

External links

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