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FIELD TRIP: Cathedral State Park

Cathedral State ParkDescription: Although more than 170 species of vascular flora occur here, including 30 tree species, nine species of ferns, three club mosses, and upwards of 50 wildflowers, the centerpiece of this state park is the ancient virgin hemlock forest, with trees towering almost 100 feet high, some with a circumference in excess of 21 feet. The park contains one of the only stands of mixed virgin timber left in the state as well as the largest hemlock in West Virginia.

The forest is living testimony to Branson Haas, a workman at a nearby hotel, who purchased the forest in 1922 and sold it to the state in 1942 with the stipulation that the forest never be cut.

Viewing Information: Hike the well-marked Cathedral Trail through the forest and notice how sunlight rarely touches the forest floor. Throughout the year listen and watch for tufted titmice, black-capped chickadees and red-breasted nuthatches. Identify the chickadee by its “chick-a-dee-dee-dee” or “dee-dee-dee” call and by its black-capped head and black throat. The small gray tufted titmouse has a conspicuous tufted crest and chants “peter, peter” over and over.

These are social birds, so where one occurs, several others are sure to be around. Identify the red-breasted nuthatch by the conspicuous black line that runs through its eye with a white line above it as it calls a nasal “yank-yank”. This bird often creeps down one of the large hemlocks head first. Red squirrels and deer mice can also be seen here. Like red-breasted nuthatches, they prefer coniferous forests. White-tailed deer, wild turkeys, barred owls, common screech owls, and red and gray foxes may also be observed. Native brook trout can sometimes be seen in the small stream that flows through the area.

Directions: From the intersection of West Virginia State Route 32 and U.S. Highway 219 in Thomas, travel north on US 219 for 9 miles. Turn left onto WV 24 and go north for 5.5 miles. Turn left onto US 50 and go west for 0.4 mile to the park entrance, on the right.

Ownership: West Virginia Division of Natural Resources (304) 735-3771

Size: 133 acres

Closest Town: Aurora

Excerpt from the WV Wildlife Viewing Guide by Mark Damian Duda.