Wild and Wonderful West Virginia

“Almost Heaven, West Virginia

Blue Ridge Mountains, Shenandoah River

Life is old there, older than the trees

Younger than the mountains, blowing like a breeze

Country roads, take me home

To the place I belong

West Virginia, mountain mama

Take me home, country roads”

View on the Highland Scenic Highway- just a few minutes from the office!

When I told friends, family members, or even strangers I was moving to West Virginia, their first response was to serenade me with John Denver’s ode to the mountain state. Now that I’m here, I have to say- the country roads do live up to the hype.

A stunning view of the Allegheny Mountains from the side of the Highland Scenic Highway.


My new home in Marlinton, WV is in the National Radio Quiet Zone (NRQZ). The NRQZ is a large area where radio transmissions are heavily restricted for scientific research and military intelligence purposes. In my case, this means no cell service.

At first, I was anxious about not having my cell phone available to me whenever I needed, or, rather, wanted it. This all disappeared within the first few days, when I realized this gave me all the time in the world to read, to explore, and to live in the moment. At work, I’m fully able to focus on the task at hand. I am more observant and in tune with nature. Though we have WiFi in the bunkhouse, I have come to prefer watching lightning bugs blink in the night to watching the blue light of my laptop screen.

A peaceful evening’s view.

Moving to West Virginia has given me a chance to slow down and take things in at a new pace. A pace that allows me to pull over on the side of the road to watch wildlife for hours at a beaver pond. One that allows me to stop my rollerblading to key out a plant on the side of the rail trail. One that allows me to ask questions about the world around me and seek out the answers. The peace and quiet of the mountain state is just what I needed to further my botanical knowledge in this internship.

A photo of Seneca Rocks, a scenic attraction in the Monongahela National Forest. I took this when my fellow CLM intern, Abbie, and I went on a hike here on our day off… we ended up working here just days later!

Protecting Native Ecosystems

Native plant communities support a variety of wildlife by providing food and habitat. We, as humans, also directly benefit from other ecosystem services native plants provide such as water filtration, erosion control, and carbon storage. However, these communities are threatened by invasive species. Invasive species are species non-native to the ecosystem whose introduction causes or is likely to cause economic or environmental harm or harm to human health.

Coming from Massachusetts with a background in primarily wildlife, my West Virginia plant identification isn’t perfect. This big book is helping me learn the beautiful flora of West Virginia.

In the early 1970’s, areas of Monongahela National Forest were mined for coal, negatively impacting the ecosystem. When the areas were reclaimed, the species that grew back were grasses or non-native pines. One major focus of the U.S. Forest Service’s mission in this area is to restore red spruce ecosystems through planting of native species and removal of non-native invasive species (NNIS). As a CLM intern, my main emphasis is management of NNIS.

Abandoned coal mine at one of our restoration sites. We are re-vegetating the area with native plants.

Through my NNIS work so far, I’ve helped to protect several rare species- some of which I got to see up close and personal! For example, I saw the Showy Lady’s Slipper (Cypripedium reginae), which is only found in two places in all of West Virginia. Other beautiful rare plants I helped protect through NNIS management are Yellow Nail-wort (Paronychia virginica), Smokehole Bergamot (Monarda fistulosa var. brevis), Limestone Adderstongue (Ophioglossum engelmannii), and Kates Mountain Clover (Trifolium virginicum) to name a few.

Showy Lady’s Slipper (Cypripedium reginae) in bloom.

Although NNIS identification, inventorying, and treatment/removal can be grueling work, West Virginia native ecosystem and views like this make it all worth it. As my first month here comes to a close, I’m feeling more at home in the area and with the people I work with. I’m looking forward to all that this internship has in store for me in the coming months!

A day of herbicide treatments, an important part of NNIS eradication. Because this was an area with protected plants, we carefully applied herbicide with sponges to reduce any drift.

A panoramic view of Smoke Hole Canyon- a perfect reminder of why I do what I do!

Until next time,

Tara McElhinney

Marlinton District Ranger Station


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