The drainage from the botanical area forms the headwaters of the Cranberry River, a popular trout stream. Located in southwestern Pocahontas County, in the Monongahela National Forest is the botanical area, Cranberry Glades. The Glades received its name from the red cranberries that grow in and around the area. Its four bogs, or acidic wetlands, make this intriguing area like an island of northern muskeg in the southern Appalachians. It is also the home of many different types of northern tundra plants and animals. Most of which reach their southernmost range in the Glades. The weather can vary greatly from one day to another.
Cranberry Glades is a popular site for tourists both from West Virginia and out of state. Unlike Dolly Sods, this wildlife area was saved during the log rush, and is protected now from any potential harm. Even though Cranberry Glades seems like a walk through a park, it is a lot more. It is so protected that even stepping off the trail or boardwalk could result in serious fines. If a bear comes along and drops anchor in the middle of the trail, you must step over or around it. Do not touch anything but the prescribed path. It is also very dangerous. The moss produces tannic acid which can preserve a body for thousands of years. Tannic acid is used to tan skins and hides in the production of leather. The moss is also a lot like quick sand. If you step in it, you may be pulled under. After a long time, the bodies of whatever has been captured are pushed out to the surface. These bodies are known as bog mummies, and have been found throughout the bogs. A human bog mummy has never been found in the glades, but animal bodies have.
In 1930, 1934, and 1945 Brooks made an extensive study of the Glades’ birds. Also, Strausbaugh (1934), Darlington (1943), and Core (1955) have made extensive studies of the Glades. Core has contributed an extensive bibliography of early research. The studies on the area by Darlington shows that Cranberry Glades was formed by easily eroding rocks in the basin and more resistant rock at its lower end. This effectively prevented down-cutting and therefore maintained a low gradient in the valley. This resulted in an elevation of at the upper end and at the back, eliminating the possibility of origin by water impoundment.
The geological history of the Glades has been traced back at least 12,200 years ago. Apparently, a forest of conifer-northern hardwoods replaced tundra. Over time the Glades formed into what it is today. Now, most of the bog is underlain by peat that is up to thick. Under the peat is a layer of algal ooze and the ooze by marl, according to Darlington. Since a limestone source in the surrounding rocks is indicated, an ample source appears to be present in the underlying Hinton Formation, a circumstance that also has significant implications for the Glades’ flora.
The area is not entirely a glade, but a bog or wetland covered with all sorts of decaying vegetation. The peat and decaying organic matter is more than ten feet thick under the dense plant cover. The ground is not as much as quicksand or swampy, but spongy. It is in a high valley, about 3,300 to above sea level, surrounded by the Cranberry Mountain on the eastern and southern borders, and the Kennison Mountain on the western side. To the north is the Black Mountain.
The water from the Glades drains to form the headwaters of the Cranberry River, a popular trout stream joined by the Yew and Charles Rivers. It starts at about above the sea, and then it meanders through the glades and recedes through a narrow gap between the Kennison and Black Mountain. It then joins the Gauley River down the mountains at about above sea level.
The plants found in the glades resemble those in the northern region of North America. They are descendants of seeds that took root over ten thousand years ago. Of these are two rare species of carnivorous plants that thrive in the area. The purple pitcher plant and native sundew turned carnivorous because of practically no root food in the spongy soil. Two very rare boreal plants, bog rosemary and buckbean live in the opening in the area called Big Glade. The smallest, Little Glade is in size. Much of the area provides a home for all sorts of mosses. These include a cover of sphagnum moss, bird-wheat moss, bog moss and reindeer lichen. Hummocks of these plants reach a height of three feet. Over top of these grow prostrate cranberry vines that bloom nice pink flowers in the summer and a bunch of fruits in late September. Several species of orchids and carnivorous plants grow here. Rose pogonia and grass-pink colored orchids are in full bloom in July. The bog forest is composed mainly of red spruce, hemlock, and yellow birch. There are also a lot of rare, northern herbs that populate the area. These include oak fern, blue joint, drooping wood reed grass, Millet Grass, Rattlesnake Mannagrass, Interior Sedge, Pod Grass, Yellow Clintonia, Canada Mayflower, White Hellebore, Northern Coralroot, Lesser Rattlesnake Plantain, Mountain Bindweed, Marsh Marigold, Goldthread, Swamp Saxifrage, White Wood Sorrel, Northern White Violet, and Buckbean. Pod grass is so rare that even five botanists searching for a full day never found any. The botanist searched for it on August 10, 1990, the same day of the month that it was initially collected. Though, it is found in the glades and was in 1909. Two other rare herbs found in the glades include Frasers sedge and Jacobs ladder.
The Monongahela National Forest has many opportunities for people to do. There are many campsites along the Cranberry River. However, none are found in the Glades because of its protected status. White water rafting and trout fishing are also popular along the Cranberry River. You can take a tour through Cranberry Glades on the five mile (8 km) boardwalk through scenic Glades. Backpacking is also optional and there are places along the way where you may stay overnight. Wandering off the trail is not permitted.
Because of the cool climate of the Glades, the amount of canopy tree species is not great. Red Spruce, Canada Hemlock, Yellow Birch, Red Maple, Black Ash and Pitch Pine are common. Upland forests immediately surrounding the wetlands are dominated by Yellow Birch, Red Maple, Red Spruce, Beech, Sugar Maple, Black Cherry, American Basswood, White Ash, Yellow Buckeye, Black Birch, Cucumber, Fraser Magnolias, White Oak, and Canada Hemlock. There are also many more understory trees.
Unlike the trees in the area, the shrubs in the area are very diverse. This is in part a consequence of the presence of shrub swamps, forest habitats, and open glades. The dominant of the shrubs is Speckled Alder. Also common are Pipestem, Glade St. Johns-wort, Great Rhododendron, Hobblebush, Smooth Arrowwood, Roughish Arrowwood, Wild Raisin, Oblongfruited Serviceberry, Ninebark, Alternate-leaved Dogwood, Bunchberry, Winterberry Holly, Mountain Holly, and the Appalachian endemic Longstalked Holly, Swamp Rose, Canada Yew, Bog Rosemary and many more. Bog Rosemary is at its southernmost limit of distribution. Oblongfruited Serviceberry is a rare northern shrub, isolated from the rest of its species. More than ten of these shrubs have markedly northern distributions and at least three are at their farthest southern limits. The Canada Yew is a special evergreen shrub that was once so common in the area, that the Yew Creek and Yew Mountains are named after it. Browsing deer has reduced its numbers to the extent that it is found only in scattered locations throughout its Central Appalachian range. This includes Cranberry Glades.
Many animals that live in the Glades are at their southernmost breeding grounds, including birds such as the Swainson’s and Hermit thrushes, Nashville and mourning warblers, and Purple finches. Other, more common birds like ravens and hawks populate the area. Other familiar animals including deer inhabit the glades. Black bears have been seen in the skunk cabbage growing along the boardwalk. In the evening, you have a good chance of hearing beavers working; they are mostly inactive during the day. It is hard to see the beavers because of little light, and they are dark colored. They also reside submerged or are building their homes.
The climate of Cranberry Glades is generally cool and wet, and comparable to that of New England or Canada. It is a result of the surrounding mountains draining their cool air downhill to Cranberry Glades. With the high mountains and a high elevation, a cool breeze always blows. It is mostly wet and variable. It also has the potential of frost all year long. In some years, the frost free period has been as short as 81 days. Though, the average summer day is in the 70’s or 80’s. There is always a chance of sudden weather change. There have been cases of 92 degree days changing to 32 degrees within two days. Mid-winter temperatures record as low as 25 degrees below zero, and the area often sees heavy snow.
Cranberry Glades is considered an island of north muskeg in the south. It is very unusual and one of West Virginia’s two flora Natural Wonders. The other, is Dolly Sods. With many things to see and discover, Cranberry Glades has become a very popular tourist attraction in West Virginia over the years. There are many rare species of birds, animals, and plants that are left here from long ago. All of these unique factors have made Cranberry Glades what it is today.