Sunday, July 22, 2007
Blackwater Canyon, West Virginia.
Blackwater Canyon is located in the Allegheny highlands of West Virginia. Cut by the Blackwater River, the gorge averages well over 500 feet deep and it remains a relatively pristine area filled with a vast forest of hemlocks, pines, poplars, and oaks.
A bit over 2,000 acres of the canyon is preserved as Blackwater Falls State Park, one of West Virginia’s premiere parks. There are a number of canyon rim trails, a ski slope within the park, a lodge, cabins, and a campground. For sheer physical beauty, this is one of the most beautiful parks in the Southeastern United States.
There are a number of spectacular waterfalls here, most notably Blackwater Falls, a 57-foot drop that displays the dark water for which the river and canyon (and falls) are named. The water is darkened not from soil runoff, but from the tannins created by the mildly acidic effects of the many hemlocks trees that clothe the canyon’s slopes. While the hemlock wooly adelgid that has decimated the forests farther east have recently been reported in the park, they have so far not destroyed these trees. However, unless there is a wide-scale application of the insecticide imadacloprid, these forests will fall to extinction as have those from Virginia south to Georgia.
No official trails find their ways to the canyon floor, and travel into the canyon itself is not encouraged. However, there are a number of unofficial trails and manways that weave down from the canyon rim and to the floor of the gorge. The best of these descends from Pendleton Overlook and is relatively easy to follow, if not so easy to negotiate. Some scramblers periodically leave nylon ribbons along this manway to keep hikers from straying too far into the maze of rhododendron hells. Use of these manways, while not encouraged, is not prohibited. Just use common sense when climbing down the extremely steep slopes into the rugged canyon floor.
Over the past few years, the canyon has been at the center of a drive to protect the lands that are not currently within the boundaries of the Blackwater Falls State Park. Efforts to preserve several thousand additional acres failed when the landowner sold the property to a timber company which desperately wants to log the canyon of its timber and leave the place devastated and unsuitable for a park. Additionally, this company is even lobbying to be able to move the timber from their logging operations through the existing park. Only time will tell if conservationists will prevail in creating a new National Park in this place, or if yet another corporation will succeed in raping the land for short-term profits.
There are a number of rare and endangered species that live within the Blackwater Canyon, and hopefully the presence of these living things will aid in stopping any further logging operations by the Allegheny Wood Products company. It would be a shame and a crime to lose this phenomenal landscape to the depredations of another greedy corporation.