George Washington And Jefferson National Forests

The George Washington and Jefferson National Forests are U.S. National Forests that join to create one of the largest areas of public land in the Eastern US. They cover 1.8 million acres of land in the Appalachian Mountains of Virginia, West Virginia, and Kentucky. About 1 million acres of the forest are remote and undeveloped. About 139,461 acres have been designated as wilderness areas, which eliminates any future development.

Washington National Forest was established on May 16th of 1918 as the Shenandoah National Forest. The forest was renamed honoring the first President on June 28th of 1932. Natural Bridge National Forest was an addition on July 22nd of 1933.

Jefferson National Forest was created on April 21st of 1936 by joining parts of the Unaka and George Washington National Forests with other land. In 1995, the George Washington and Jefferson National Forests were administratively joined. The border between these two roughly follows the James River. The joined forests are administered from the headquarters in Roanoke, Virginia.

The vast and mountainous terrain features a great variety of plant life of over 50 species of trees and over 2,000 species of shrubs and herbaceous plants.

The forests contain about 230,000 acres of old growth forests, representing all of the major forest communities that are found within them. Locations of old growth include Mount Pleasant National Scenic Area, Peters Mountain, Rich Hole Wilderness, Pick Breeches Ridge, Flannery Ridge, Laurel Fork Gorge, Mount Rogers National Recreation Area, and Pickern Mountain. The Ramsey’s Draft and Kimberling Creek Wilderness, in particular, are mainly old growth.

The Black Bear is rather common, enough so that there is short hunting season to prevent overpopulation. Bobcat, bald eagles, white-tailed deer, weasel, otter, and marten are also known to inhabit this forest.

The forests are popular for hiking, hunting, and mountain biking destinations. The Appalachian Trail runs for 330 miles from the southern end of the Shenandoah National Park through the forest and along the Blue Ridge Parkway. The forest is within a two hour drive for over ten million people, therefore, it receives large numbers of visitors, especially in the region that is closest to Shenandoah National Park.

The George Washington National Forest is a popular place for trail runners. It features several Ultramarathons, including Old Dominion 100 miler, Old Dominion Memorial 100 miler, and Massanutten Mountain Trails 100 miler. It is also the venue for Nature Camp, a natural science education-oriented summer camp for youth. The camp is on national forest land near the town of Vesuvius, Virginia. Nature Camp has operated at this located since summer in 1953.

There are 139,461 acres of federally designated wilderness areas in the two forests under the United States Wilderness Preservation System. All of them are in the state of Virginia. The largest of these is the Mountain Lake Wilderness, at 16,511 acres. There are 17 wildernesses in Jefferson National Forest, which is second only to Tongass National Forest which has 19.

The first camp of the Civilian Conservation Corps NF-1, Camp Roosevelt, was established in the George Washington National Forest close to Luray Virginia. Now, it is the site of the Camp Roosevelt Recreation Area.

Image Caption: View from the White Rocks on Little Sluice Mountain, in George Washington National Forest, Virginia, USA. Credit: Aneta Kaluzna/Wikipedia (CC BY-SA 2.5)