Monongahela National Forest Turns 100, 1920-2020

A Century of Change

At the turn of the 20th century, West Virginia’s vast forests seemed to offer an infinite supply of timber for the growing nation. Huge trees up to 12 feet in diameter were cut and milled. All that remained of these giant trees were piles of leftover branches called “slash” and a desolate landscape. The region became a tinder box where forest fires were rampant. After the fires, barren hillsides could not absorb rainfall which led to devastating floods.

To solve these issues, Congress passed the Weeks Act in 1911, which allowed the federal government to buy property and restore it to protect headwater streams. In 1920, President Woodrow Wilson signed the proclamation designating land purchased for the protection of the Monongahela River as Monongahela National Forest.

Since the creation of Monongahela National Forest, it has grown from 7,200 acres to over 900,000 acres. The Forest serves the public by providing recreational opportunities, forest products, and abundant clean water from healthy ecosystems.

A Forest Reborn: Canaan Mountain Plantation, 1925-1933

Situated atop Canaan Mountain in Tucker County, West Virginia the former tree plantation bears little resemblance to what the federal government purchased in the early 1920s. The few physical reminders of that past are now obscured by a mature forest. Unless you look closely.

On November 27, 1922, the federal government purchased a 15,496 tract of land on Canaan Mountain south of Davis, West Virginia near the famed Blackwater Falls. The tract, purchased from R.C. Morse, was previously part of a much larger 26,000 acre tract originally owned by George W. and William B. Dobbin. Canaan Mountain was once cloaked in a dense red spruce forest, but became a treeless landscape scorched by wildfire by 1922 due to the logging practices of the time.

Treeless landscape of Canaan Mountain Plantation, May 1932. (USDA Forest Service photo)

View of Pump Chance #7 in Canaan Mountain Plantation along Fire Trail #6/Red Run, March 8, 1949. (USDA Forest Service photo)

Looking east from Mozark Mountain lookout tower site toward the Canaan Mountain Plantation. Canaan Loop Road is visible in distance at left, April, 1933. (USDA Forest Service photo)

Planting Camps

The first Canaan Mountain Plantation spring planting camp was established near the site of the former Canaan Mountain lookout on Canaan Loop Road (Forest Road 13), not far from its intersection with Highway Route 32 in 1925. There was never a shortage of labor to plant trees on Canaan Mountain. The work and wages were a welcome source of income for families struggling to put food on the table during the height of the Great Depression.

Each crew planted an average of 500 to 600 trees per day. The planting crew’s work was an impressive achievement. Between 1925 and 1933, crews planted 1,559,300 seedlings across 2,462-acres of federally-owned lands on Canaan Mountain. The seeds and seedlings came from a variety of sources, but the majority were grown at two national forest nurseries on the National Forest, located in Gladwin and Parsons, West Virginia. The Parsons Nursery Bottom is home to a US Forest Service office today and is open to the public Monday through Friday.

Canaan Mountain Lookout cabin, Monongahela National Forest, 1933. (USDA Forest Service photo)

Overview of Canaan Mountain planting camp, Monongahela National Forest, spring 1933. (Photo courtesy of National Archives)

Laborers and USDA Forest Service personnel in front of camp kitchen and mess tent, Canaan Mountain Plantation Camp, spring 1933. (Photo courtesy of National Archives)

Your National Forest Lands

Beginning in the summer of 1933, the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) constructed a system of fire breaks and trails though the plantation, dividing it into smaller sections. The network featured a central trail with cross trails from one-fourth to one-half mile apart. Many of these trails exist today such as Plantation Trail, Fire Trail 6 and 3, and Davis Trail.

Standing amid the forest on Canaan Mountain today it is hard to comprehend the remarkable transformation that occurred here in just under 100 years. The seedlings, planted at one of the bleakest periods in American history and nurtured and protected by generations of personnel from Monongahela National Forest, have grown to become a thriving and beautiful forest. Enjoyed by millions of visitors seeking outdoor adventure, fishing and hunting, and natural open spaces.