Almost Heaven on Gaudineer Knob
I've read accounts of the ordeal faced by Confederate soldiers climbing up Cheat Mountain, through a spruce forest in the dark, but I didn't really appreciate what those soldiers went through until I visited the Gaudineer Scenic Area (GSA).
Just a short piece north of Durbin lies the GSA and 50 acres of virgin red spruce forest - one of the few places in Pocahontas County that has never been timbered. Another 90 acres has been minimally and selectively timbered, primarily for deadfall and limb removal.
In a portion of the untouched spruce grove, the Park Service maintains an interpretive trail, where visitors can learn about the ecology of the area and learn how the area escaped the saws of rapacious loggers in the early 1900s.
Inside the original forest are a multitude of fallen trees, like a giant game of pick-up sticks.ﾠ I read the signs along the trail and learned that spruce trees have a shallow root system and will blow over in strong winds. The fallen trees create a natural obstacle better than any abatis built by man.
I imagined trying to walk through an area like this at night and felt sympathy for the Confederate soldiers, whom General Robert E. Lee sent up Cheat Mountain in 1861. I don't think General Lee had a good idea of the terrain his soldiers would encounter or he never would have embarked on such a disaster.
According to author Maurice Brooks, a surveyor's error, prior to the Civil War, saved the area from the logger's ax. A land company surveyed the tract, but a compass mistake left out a wedge of approximately 900 acres. A Virginia surveyor discovered the mistake and gained title to the land via the "doctrine of vacancy."ﾠ The West Virginia Pulp and Paper Company clear-cut the surrounding area between 1900 - 1920, but the wedge was spared, including the 140-acre GSA.ﾠ
Unlike the hell that Civil War soldiers encountered, today's GSA is an unspoiled piece of Almost Heaven. Giant spruce trees - some 300 years old - tower above the tangle at the forest floor and young spruce trees grow everywhere - even on top of boulders.ﾠ Spruce trees seem adapted to growing on rocks and many cling to boulders with a net-like carpet of roots. Beech, birch and maple trees grow among the spruce - still holding golden leaves in mid-October - contrasting against the mass of evergreens.
A picnic area on Gaudineer Knob is one of the nicest you will ever see. A half-mile, easy walking trail leads you to a breathtaking overlook of the mountains to the northwest. Along the trail, picnic tables and grills are tucked into alcoves of young spruce trees. Soft, mossy turf covers the ground and seems to invite you to lie down and take a nap, like Rip Van Winkle.
Surrounding the GSA is the Monongahela National Forest and the infinite opportunities it provides.
The Allegheny Trail, blazed with blue and yellow rectangles,ﾠ passes next to the virgin spruce stand and can lead you onto Shavers Mountain and away from civilization, or on a hike back toward Durbin and the Greenbrier River.
Follow the forest road a few miles past the GSA and you'll find a catch and release trout fishing area on Shavers Fork.
There's a lot of ways to spend an excellent day on and around Gaudineer Knob. Fore more information contact the Greenbrier Ranger District at (304) 456-3335.