Preserve to Protect: A How-to Guide

Let’s face it: we’re part of one of the most uniquely wasteful societies in the world. Part of the ironic reason behind this is the increasingly complex way we manage our resources. The more we have available to us, the more we’re likely to consume. While that might be fine at home in the kitchen, it’s most definitely preferable to keep human impact as far away from natural preserves as possible. When you’re out for a hike or camping in the woods, you don’t want to see evidence that people were there before you.

Out of respect, here are a few of the things you can do to help keep nature at its finest:

If you’re on a backpacking excursion or simply taking a short hike, the smell of smoke can somewhat crush the feel of the great outdoors. While everyone loves a fire when camping, it’s better for the environment–and everyone else–if they’re kept small. When temperatures climb, check with local forest rangers to see if you’re allowed a fire.

When you do start a fire, be sure that it’s far enough away from dry brush that it won’t find its way elsewhere. When you go to sleep, take care to smother the fire completely. A lot of forest fires have been started after unwary campers failed to completely put out the embers beneath the top layer of ash. Be careful.

Don’t litter! Failing to pick up trash can hurt the wildlife, and any items you leave behind might stay there for years if they can’t decompose properly. Maintain a proper carry-in carry-out policy when outdoors. The general rule of thumb is simple: if you brought it with you, then don’t leave it behind. If you’re out backpacking or camping, then don’t forget to bring a trash bag.

When you’re on a trail, the best path is straight forward. When you step off the trail, you can errode the area around the trail and inadvertently make it grow in size. Sometimes you share your outdoors excursion with shockingly fragile ecosystems, and these are often endangered by hikers that wander off the path because of mud or other obstacles. Wear the proper footwear, and when possible, bypass the obstacle by going over.

This one’s important: make sure your food is contained to a bear bag or box. Leaving food out in the open can attract potentially dangerous wildlife, or help them rely on humans as a potential food source. No one wants a black bear wandering into camp because he’s used to getting a free meal. Keep safe, and be smart!

What is Hickory Creek Wilderness

Covering an area of over 8,600 acres, the Hickory Creek Wilderness is one of only two specifically designated wilderness areas in the state of Pennsylvania with the entirety of its property located within the state borders. It was designated Hickory Creek in 1984 by Congress, and it is currently part of a system of 109 million acres of land protected under the National Wilderness Preservation Act of 1964 while being managed by the state’s Forest Service.

Located within the Allegheny National Forest in the northwestern part of Pennsylvania, the Hickory Creek Wilderness boasts lush and dense wooded areas abundant with northern hardwoods and hemlock as well as a forest floor of flowers, ferns, shrubs and mosses. Wildlife within the designated wilderness area includes relatively high populations of bear, deer and wild turkey. The wilderness also supports a 12-mile loop of a hiking trail with a dedicated trail head located off State Route 2002, accessible only on foot.

Because the wilderness area is a potential home to endangered species of plants and animals and is protected under the National Wilderness Preservation Act, several stipulations about utilizing the services of Hickory Creek are set in place so as to detract from the integrity of the ecosystems as little as possible. Forest Service employees and wilderness managers often encourage hikers and backpackers to employ “Leave No Trace” techniques. Many of these techniques reduce waste products being left or disposed of within the wilderness to avoid disturbing aforementioned ecosystems by minimizing human activity on the grounds. Others include some of the following:

  • Repackage food to avoid waste
  • Use dedicated camping sites rather than establishing your own, and keep campsites small – utilize areas free of vegetation
  • Set camp at least 200 feet away from riparian areas (banks of rivers or streams), bury human waste 6-8 inches underground and following the same distance protocols
  • Keep fires small, use only sticks on the forest floor that can be broken by hand
  • Do not approach or follow wildlife – observe and admire from a distance

There are many other conditions to follow regarding “Leave No Trace” techniques, all of which are accessible online.

The Wilderness Act of 1964 was designed and signed into law for the purpose of preserving select areas of nature “where man himself is a visitor who does not remain.” In the interest of maintaining some form of wilderness for generations to come, Congress had designated the 100 million plus acres of land protected under the Act for the sake of protecting it from development on any urban scale “for the permanent good of the whole people.” While the wilderness areas can be utilized and enjoyed for recreational purposes by the general population, the Act only allows development within the areas that could benefit and enhance these recreational activities while still maintaining the general integrity of the nature and inlaying ecosystems. Under this Act, wilderness areas like the Hickory Creek Wilderness within the Allegheny National Forest can endure and thrive amid urban development and modern-day commercialization of the United States, allowing consumers to enjoy such wild and natural areas for years to come.

Ultimate Wilderness Hikes

In an age where the world seems like such a small place and everyone is so closely connected thanks to technology and the Internet, sometimes all you want to do is get out to the middle of nowhere so you can breathe just a little bit. And there aren’t many experiences that beat that than simply taking a trip out into the wilderness – getting some fresh air or reconnecting with nature, some people might say – for the ultimate hike.

And when it comes to nature in particular, the venues are almost limitless in terms of places to explore. Forests, mountains, vast expanses of plains, deserts – all of these are within reach in the continental United States, and many of them are safe and easily accessible for the outdoors layman or the seasoned hiker or backpacker.

For those of you in the Pacific Northwest, the state of Washington boasts two of the best and most scenic wilderness trails the country has to offer: the Pacific Crest Trail, which runs through the Pasayten Wilderness, and Olympic National Park, which sports a 34 mile trail from Dosewallips to Lake Quinault. Similar to its lengthy East Coast cousin, the Appalachian Trail, the Pacific Crest Trail sports a thru-hike that runs from Mexico all the way to Canada and can take an estimated 5 months to traverse in one span. For those of you who aren’t looking for quite that much adventure at one time, the Pasayten Wilderness still offers plentiful routes for comfortable day hikes while giving some of the best scenery the Pacific Northwest can offer, including North Cascades National Park where you can see glaciers – yes, glaciers.

Jumping across the country, I mentioned earlier the Appalachian Trail. Spanning nearly 2,200 miles and crossing through 14 different state borders, the Appalachian Trail is the crown jewel of American thru-hikes. It offers diverse levels of elevation (and traversing difficulty) at various points which makes for breath-taking and awe-inspiring views, and the immense stretch of hike-only foot paths is easily broken into dozens upon dozens of noteworthy day hike trails, not least among them the Great Smokey Mountains National Park in Tennessee, Bear Mountain in New York and Baxter State Park in Maine.

For the ultimate hiker, however, going off the beaten path may just be the last resort you’ve been seeking. A trail that is not even a trail, the Gates of the Arctic National Park and the Mollie Beattie Wilderness offer the “Caribou Trail,” a real-to-life migration trail for Alaska’s wildlife. Exceedingly noteworthy is the park’s complete lack of actual trail heads or trails in general, so this sort of venture is best reserved for the most experienced and seasoned veterans among hikers and backpackers. However, to dismiss the beauty of Alaskan nature when discussing prime hiking and backpacking trails is virtually a crime in and of itself.

Many other trails and thru-hikes exist within the continental United States, each as scenic and inspiring as the last. The Anhinga Trail and Wilderness Waterway Trail will guide you through the Floridian Everglades, the Continental Divide Trail running from New Mexico to Montana navigates through the Rocky Mountain range and into Glacier National Park, and Utah sports the Zion Wilderness and Arches National Park, connecting with the Angel’s Landing Trail and Devil’s Garden Trail respectively.

Otis G. Pike Fire Island High Dune Wilderness

When you have one of the smallest wilderness areas in the world, it only makes sense to have one of the longest names for a wilderness area to fill the space, both in words and in syllables.

Fire Island is a very important barrier island that shields Long Island, New York, from much of the ravages of the Atlantic Ocean. It paid a bit of a price for its role as protectorate during Hurricane Sandy in 2012. Part of Fire Island that took a lot of the storm was the part that was along the southern and eastern shore of Fire Island, a small strip of land called the Otis G. Pike Fire Island High Dune Wilderness, designated by Congress as a federal wilderness area in 1980.

Fire Island itself is a very narrow, 32-mile-long island just off the southern part of Long Island. The island itself is no more than a half-mile wide at one point, and as narrow as just 200 yards. About seven miles of this island on the eastern part is designated part of the Otis Pike Wilderness, from the visitor center to the west all the way to Watch Hill on the east. A couple of private beaches on the far eastern side of the island are not part of the wilderness and essentially make the easternmost boundary.

The wilderness area was named after former New York congressman Otis G. Pike, who headed up the initiative to create the wilderness and have it protected by the National Park Service. At just more than 2 square miles (about 1,400 aces), it is one of the smallest wilderness areas the NPS operates and is the only wilderness area in all of New York state.

The original wilderness was about 1,363 acres when created in 1980, and about 17 more acres were potentially available to be included at a later date should they meet federal wilderness standards.  Most of that was noted as compliant by the Federal Register in 1999, then the last acre was added in 2015 after Hurricane Sandy wiped out remaining structures on the land, and it was incorporated into the Otis Pike wilderness area.

While not very large as a wilderness area, the Otis G. Pike Fire Island High Dune Wilderness is packed with nature and outdoor activities for most tastes. There is backcountry camping available, as well as hiking along the old Burma Road. The terrain is varied, with pine forest, a grassy wetland, sand dunes – all of which provide habitat for white-tailed deer, herons and various waterfowl that use the wilderness as a “rest stop” on its usual migratory path.

If you are someone who likes to do some saltwater and/or ocean fishing, the Otis G. Pike Wilderness provides opportunities for anglers to angle for bluefish, striped bass or winter flounder among several other saltwater species that roam around Long Island. Though it is a tiny wilderness spot, the Otis G. Pike Fire Island High Dune Wilderness is a vibrant space to get a wilderness experience just 50 miles from Manhattan.

Great Swamp National Wildlife Refuge

If you believe everything told to you, we have some swampland in New Jersey to sell you.

We always laugh over that joke, making fun of some of our ability to be deceived and willingness to believe even the most absurd statements.

We can laugh because we all know that either we don’t actually own that bridge or swampland that we claim we’ll sell, or that the very item doesn’t even exist.

Technically, though, there is swampland in New Jersey, and technically we do own it as it is part of the public lands. Say hello to the Great Swamp National Wildlife Refuge in Morris County, New Jersey.

Spreading out over nearly 8,000 acres, the Great Swamp is located about 25 miles west of New York City and is reportedly a rest and feeding base for nearly 250 bird species.  The refuge was designated a national wilderness through an act of Congress in 1960, and it was declared a national landmark in 1966 due to being “an exceptional example of the natural history of the United States.”

The refuge has such diversity in habitats that varied animals like fox, muskrat, deer, turtle, frog, bird and fish populate the area. The swampland is actually a leftover of the Glacial Lake Passaic, which was a 300-square-mile lake that covered northern New Jersey about 12,000-15,000 years ago.  The lake came from melting ice off the Wisconsin Glacier and built up due to a plugged outlet, and the water finally released from the area at a higher altitude than the original outlet. The refuge contains part of the Great Swamp watershed that leads into the Passaic River.

The wilderness has a variety of lands, from marshes to wet meadows to swamp woods to oak-covered ridges. The refuge is home to nearly 40 species of mammals, including the rare Indiana bat, which is on an endangered species list. There are also blue-spotted salamanders and rare bog turtles which call the refuge home as well.

There are more than eight miles of trails in the refuge for ample hiking opportunities, but only during daylight hours. Camping and picnicking are reportedly prohibited anywhere in the wilderness area. The refuge was established after an outpouring of support in saving it from development of what would have been a major airport. Later, in 1968, the eastern part of the wilderness area became the first designated wilderness area to be under the auspices of the U.S. Department of the Interior.

Yes, believe it or not, Florida does not have a monopoly on swampland. With the last Ice Age dropping glaciers as far south as the Atlantic seaboard, swamplands have been prevalent in certain areas of the country. New Jersey’s Great Swamp refuge is perhaps one of the better-maintained primitive lands that give us a view into what that part of the country may have looked like just after the big glacier melt.

It is a piece of history. Or pre-history, if you would rather.

The Wilderness in Texas

Texas is such a big state that it can easily be its own country (and yes, for a time it was its own country). And while it does have a lot of land, and it is one of the most populated states in the Union, the fact is that there is still plenty of open space, though some of it is under government control.

The funny thing is that for all the people and concrete, steel and asphalt that exists in the state, Texas has its share of wilderness – granted, not as much as states like Alaska or Wyoming, but even a populous state can have areas that have been preserved by government for its beauty and/or natural resources.  Here’s a quick look at six designated wilderness areas in the Lone Star State.

Big Slough Wilderness

Despite “big” in its name, the Big Slough Wilderness is actually the smallest of the six wilderness areas in Texas, at a little more than 3,500 acres. It is a varied area, however, with the Neches River along the eastern boundary, rolling terrain, several decent hiking trails (including a 20-mile sojourn) along with a small creek that features bass, catfish and sunfish for fishing. Deer, wild hogs and even squirrels consider this area home, which are an attraction to hunters during the fall. Congress designated it a wilderness area in 1984 and it is under management of the U.S. Forest Service.

Guadalupe Mountain Wilderness

Located inside Guadalupe Mountain National Park, this wilderness area in west Texas is the largest such area in the state and is considered the most extensive fossil reef in the world. You see, this area was under a large sea of water more than 250 million years ago. After a while the reef died and was buried, but the reef was raised again, revealing the fossils. The highest point in Texas, Guadalupe Peak (nearly 8,800 feet) is here, and despite an arid climate with little rain, the wilderness is home to 900 species of plants, more than 300 birds, 60 mammals and another 60 or so species of reptiles and amphibians. Managed by the National Park Service, the 47,000-acre area was designate by Congress in 1978.

Indian Mounds Wilderness

Established by an act of Congress in 1984, Indian Mounds Wilderness is located against the Louisiana state line and features a variety of trees, three creeks and the Toledo Bend Reservoir which is large enough for boating and fishing. The area is nearly 13,000 acres and buts against the Indian Mounds Recreation Area and features Hurricane Bayou, Indiana Creek and Bull Creek running through and alongside it. There are abandoned Forest Service roads which are used as hiking and horse trails as well.

Little Lake Creek Wilderness

Located along the western part of the Gulf Coast, Little Lake Creek received its designation from Congress in 1984 and it covers about 3,800 acres, bordered on the west by an old oil pipeline right-of-way. This is a fertile wilderness, being near the Gulf of Mexico but also having three creeks running through it – Pole Creek, Sand Branch, and Little Lake Creek – to feed woodpeckers, armadillos, deer and owls, but also snakes, mosquitos, ticks and poison ivy. However, there are miles of trails (including one that crosses the pipeline twice) and camping areas.

Turkey Hill Wilderness

This 5,500-acre wilderness area along the Gulf Coast plain was designated by Congress in 1984 and features Turkey Hill, which reaches a modest 300-foot elevation. Despite the name, deer is prevalent here (and sorry, no turkey) for hunters, and there are miles of trails for hikers and three waterways – Sandy Creek, Clear Branch and Wash Branch.  A decent forest of hardwood and pine trees is present, and several miles of trail are highlighted by the 3.5- mile Wash Branch Trail.

Upland Island Wilderness

Establsihed by Congress in 1984, the 13,000-acre Upland Island Wilderness has the reputation of being one of the more “interesting” wilderness areas in the state, featuring several exotic varieties of plants, including rose pogonias, azaleas and pitcher plants (which are carnivorous). Loggers abandoned this area in the 1930s, but a new generation of hardwoods and pines cover the area. There are several great hiking and horseback trails, and there is a lot of water flowing in five water ways – Cypress Creek, Salt Branch, and Oil Well, Big and Graham creeks.

How Did West Virginia Attain Statehood in 1863?

West Virginia, today bordered by Virginia, Ohio, Kentucky, Pennsylvania and Maryland, is a somewhat peculiar state with a peculiar history. While some states made their way into the Union with a whimper, West Virginia did it with a bang based on timing alone. It happened during the American Civil War, and partly because so many of the region’s citizens were divided on the issue of slavery and other aspects of the Union and Confederate causes. Many residents still owned slaves at the time many of which died from wrongful death.

Virginia was one of the Confederate states to secede from the Union, and the region that would eventually become West Virginia included many counties that sympathized with the Confederate cause. Even so, West Virginia soon broke away and rejoined the Union on June 20, 1863. At this point it also became an important strategic point of interest for both sides.

Before statehood was attained, there was lengthy debate as to how and why the region should secede from the Confederate side of the country, not to mention what effect and consequences would transpire should its people decide to make the split. To be sure, officials were not in favor of rebellion and did not want to be viewed as such by the Union.

Before the decision could be made, the Wheeling Conventions were held with the purpose of reorganizing state government offices. The result was a dual government in which one side remained loyal to the Confederate cause while the other remained loyal to the original Union. Needless to say, the result was chaos. After another convention took place, a new state constitution was drafted and the vote that began to swing the West Virginia region toward the Union was held on May 13, 1862. Union President Abraham Lincoln ratified the act that would enable West Virginia’s statehood with a single prerequisite: slavery must eventually be abolished in the region.

Yet another convention was held on February 12, 1863 to discuss and vote on the condition that Lincoln had designated for statehood. The new state constitution was put into effect with that condition met, and so Lincoln had the honor of admitting West Virginia to statehood on April 20, 1863. The event took place a full sixty days later, and the rest is history.

It should be acknowledged that many Confederate sympathizers were away serving in the Confederate Army at the time, and therefore could not vote on the initiative to create the new state. It created a rift between the residents on West Virginia, and a brief suit was brought about in order to return lands to Virginia. It was entirely unsuccessful.

West Virginia is considered part of the south, and is often referred to as Appalachia because of its geographical location in the middle of the Appalachian Mountains. Today, it is still well known for a thriving lumber and coal industry. Tourists often come to explore some of the hilliest terrains in the U.S., while others gallivant through its many caves. A large body of scientific research is also done there.

These Are The Best Historic Landmarks in West Virginia

West Virginia has sixteen very beautiful and noteworthy historic landmarks, but some exceed the rest. Most are relatively new and have been created only in the last few decades. Each is a historic landmark for different reasons of varying importance. For example, Andrews Methodist Episcopal Church was designated in 1992 and was where the first Mother’s Day was celebrated. Where would you want to visit, and why? Here are a few of the best historic landmarks that West Virginia has to offer you and the family.

The Campbell Mansion was designated in 1994 as the home of Alexander Campbell, who founded and presided over Bethany College. At first glance it might not seem like such a big deal, but Campbell was an important person in Christian history. He helped form some congregations such as the Disciples of Christ and Churches of Christ. Campbell was also known for his involvement in the Restoration Movement from which those congregations were birthed. For those who would prefer just to view the scenery, there are a number of buildings and a cemetery on the grounds off Route 67 in town.

The Clover Site is important because it is home to a prehistoric Native American village. Because Native American tribes passed down stories and historically significant events orally, archaeology is one of the only ways we have to study their culture and way of life with much reliability. If history isn’t really your thing, then you’re probably reading the wrong list–but the Clover Site is also a great spot for nature viewing if you prefer.

Grave Creek Mound was designated much earlier in 1964, and is a 62 foot high conical burial mound. While this might creep you out, it really is a site to behold. Whether you live in West Virginia or you’re simply planning a trip there, this landmark is one you should not miss. The people who built it did so within the first couple centuries BC and were part of the Adena Culture.

Traveller’s Rest is sometimes better known as the General Horatio Gates Home, and is the site of some great (and rare) early American architecture by a man named John Ariss who lived from 1725 to 1799. General Horatio Gates purchased the land on which the home was to be built in 1772 and then proceeded to make big career moves in the local militia. He freed the slaves who resided with him in 1790 and escaped to New York City where he died in 1806.

The Alexander Wade House was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1965. Wade, love him or hate him, is famous for the academic systems he promoted for rural students in the area. They involved advancement through exams and graduations and made a great impact on those growing up in the outlying regions. The home itself is beautiful as well.

West Virginia: Your Next Tourist Destination

So now that we convinced you to come visit West Virginia due to its beautiful mother nature, there are a few other things to do while you are here that don’t involve spending time in the woods or outdoors.

West Virginia Penitentiary 

During the months of April through November, tourists can visit this allegedly haunted prison. The prison itself was active for over 100 years from 1876 to 1995.  During this time period, there were numerous fires, attempted escapes, prison riots, and over 100 executions from the death penalty. Visitors can be locked in a five foot by seven-foot prison cell and experience what life was like in prison. Paranormal lovers can spend the night there hunting ghosts and observe other alleged paranormal activity.

Trans-Allegheny Lunatic Asylum

Another unconventional, yet indoors, tourist attraction is the lunatic asylum. The building was constructed between the years of 1858 and 1881 and is known for having the largest hand-cut stone in the Nothern Hemisphere! The only other building to beat it out is the Kremlin across the globe in Russia. The architect Richard Andrews purposely designed the building too so each room would get a proper amount of “therapeutic” sunlight and fresh air as possible. There are several different types of tours available from learning about the stunning architecture, history, Civil War raids, treatment of the mentally ill and for the paranormal lovers, another placed that is allegedly haunted.

West Virginia State Capitol 

Did you know that this building is actually taller than the one in Washington D.C? This building is made from limestone that was shipped from Indiana in over 700 train cars. The marble is from Vermont and Italy. The building offers tours daily if you are into the more conventional tourist destination. Check out their website.

Whether you come to visit West Virginia for their indoor facilities or outdoor facilities you can be assured that you will have a good time.

Hiking Hacks: 10 Things To Bring On A Hike

If you decide you want to venture out into the wilderness and go on a hike, there are some essentials that you need to know. After reviewing the 7 principals of the Leave No Trace policy, you want to make sure what you carry around with you and wear on your body is appropriate so you do not regret going into No Man’s Land. So we’ve put together list of our top 10 things to bring with you on a hike:

Shoes – Before you decide on what shoes to wear, it’s best to research the terrain you will be hiking on. For short walks any type of trail shoes are acceptable but if you are going out for hours you might want to invest in a pair of hiking boots.

Map – Most of the trails in West Virginia have a map of that specific area. Always bring a compass so you know which direction you are facing and can follow your map. Sometimes in the middle of nowhere, there’s no signal so bringing a GPS is not advised.

Water – on long walks you might get thirsty so bringing water is a great idea. If you run out of water and plan on drinking from lakes or rivers bring a way to purify the water.

Food – on long walks you will be burning a lot of calories and you will feel hungry. You do not want to faint.

Extra clothes – if you get wet, if you get muddy or if it gets cold, having extra clothing on hand will be beneficial.

Safety items – flashlight, whistle and lighter. Self explanatory

First Aid Kit – also self-explanatory

Knife – you never know when you will need to cut strips of clothing to help bandage someone (if you forget the above item) or when you will need to cut branches or vines out of your way.

Sunscreen – as you sweat the sunscreen begins to lose effectiveness. Reapply to make sure you stay safe.

Backpack – to carry the above items!