30 Great Places: Canaan Valley

Location: Mid-Appalachia
Activities: Hiking; biking; hunting; fishing
Species: White-tailed deer; black bear; wild turkey; ruffed grouse; brook and brown and trout; largemouth bass

Where: Canaan Valley (pronounced “Ca-nane”) National Wildlife Refuge protects 16,550 acres in the Allegheny Mountains in Tucker County, in north central West Virginia. It rests at 3,200 feet, making it the highest elevation valley east of the Rockies. Rimmed by sandstone and limestone mountains reaching over 4,000 feet, the refuge is home to nearly 300 animal species—including some like woodcock and fisher generally found much further north.

Why: A chance to experience the rugged beauty of one of America’s most diverse ecosystems.

“I’ve heard people say that Canaan is the most west you can get in the east,” said Gary Berti, Director of Eastern Home River Initiatives for Trout Unlimited. “The arboreal forest here is very reminiscent of Canada. When I hiked near the Bay of Fundy (Nova Scotia) a few years ago, I thought, ‘Why did I come so far to be someplace so similar to home?’ The region has a tremendous concentration of public land—you can go from wilderness area to wildlife refuge to state park to state forest without stepping on private land. The wildlife here is off the charts—there are white-tail deer, bears, groundhogs, snowshoe hare, bobcat, fishers, porcupines, fox and many bird species.”

The refuge is open to hunting for a number of species, and some fishing is available too.

“There are native brookies in the tributaries of the Blackwater River, as well as stocked trout in several streams,” Berti continued. “The fishing is not all it could be yet, but we’re working on it.”

In the winter, Canaan’s ample snowfall (nearly 200 inches) makes it a haven for cross-country skiers; mountain biking enthusiasts know the region for the Canaan MTB Festival and the Blackwater Classic race, which are held in June.

Inside Knowledge: Bring your bass tackle.

“Back in the 20’s, largemouth bass were stocked in the beaver ponds around the reserve,” Berti added. “There are some monsters out there.”

TU Initiatives: “The existence of the Canaan Valley Wildlife Refuge – America’s 500th wildlife refuge – is in part testament to public/private partnerships. Initially, Allegheny Power Systems (now defunct) proposed a dam that would have flooded much of the valley. Conservationists opposed this proposal, and APS eventually relented, selling the federal government more than 12,000 acres in the valley. Most recently, The Land and Water Conservation Fund, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and American Electric Power secured the acquisition of additional acreage, with AEP supplying partial funding as part of a Clean Air Act settlement agreement.

“Our staff have also worked with the U.S. Fish and WIldlife Service and a local ski area to remove passage barriers, opening an additional half-mile of stream and connecting an isolated tributary with the mainstem of the Blackwater. This was a true partnership for positive changes on the ground,” Berti said.

Make a difference: A dollar spent on conservation is a dollar spent for the benefit of future generations. And with recent budget proposals, those dollars and the programs they support are in jeopardy. Visit Standup.tu.org to send a message to Congress that you support funding for conservation programs such as the Land and Water Conservation Fund so that places like Canaan Valley will stay great.

By Shauna Stephenson.