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Cranberry Glades Botanical Area
Cranberry Glades Botanical Area, West Virginia
Along the road known as the Highland Scenic Highway lies a nature center and half-mile trail that opens new worlds at the top of the mountains of West Virginia. The Cranberry Glades Botanical Area, part of the Monongahela National Forest, is the largest wetland area in West Virginia. It is also one of the largest of bog areas outside of the northern U.S. and Canadian cranberry bogs.
How did a bog end up on the top of the mountains of West Virginia? Many millions of years ago, glaciers pushed their way southward. As they crawled across the landscape, they deposited seeds of plants carrier along the miles from the north. The Cranberry Glades Bog offers examples of unusual and interesting plant species from this time, protected in the acidic bogs formed by decaying vegetation. The cool climate, frequently moisture, and acidic soil combine to create the perfect habitat for plants and animals who need wetlands to thrive.
Start at the Cranberry Mountain Nature Center
Touring the Cranberry Glades
The Cranberry Glades Botanical Area consists of two areas. A visitor center, located at 932 North Fork Cherry Road off of Highway 39 in West Virginia, offers informative displays and a wildflower exhibit planted on the grounds. Start your tour at the Visitor Center if you can; you can pick up maps to the area, which includes wonderful hikes along the Highland Scenic Highway (Highway 39).
Once you leave the Visitor Center, the actual bog is only a short drive down Highway 39. There are clear signs showing you the access road. One mile down the access road you will come to a parking lot for Cranberry Glades. There is ample parking and outhouse-style restrooms at the bog entrance.
The bog itself is accessible only by boardwalk. The half-mile trail is covered by a simple wooden plank boardwalk that makes taking a wheelchair or stroller into the bog areas fairly easy. Allow yourself plenty of time to stop and look around.
In the springtime, the rhododendrons near the boardwalk entrance are stunning. They form an arching canopy of green and blossoms. The branches grow so thickly together they form a dark tunnel in places. Mountain laurels, spruce and other high altitude bog plants are found near the entrance.
Start walking on the left-hand path to make sure you see the interpretative signage in the order in which it is intended. The boardwalk crosses Round Glade (shown above), a large open cranberry bog filled with cranberry vines and plants, ferns and mosses of all types, and grasses. Deer trails are obvious; if you are very quiet, near dawn and dusk you can spot the ubiquitous deer.
Round Glade turns to the right, and makes several crosses over Yew Creek. Don't worry, though; there is a bridge. Along this section, look to your right at the Bog Forest. There you can see examples of nurse logs. Nurse logs are fallen trees whose trunks act as 'nurses' for seedlings. The warmth, moisture and nutrients of the nurse log feed the seedling. As time goes by the the nurse log decays, it eventually crumbles to earth, leaving tree roots above the ground.
The last turn takes you through Flag Glade. Orchids and sundews, tiny carnivorous plants, are common in Flag Glade. The sundew is a very tiny plant, only about the size of your thumbnail, so you may need to actually kneel down on the boardwalk and peer into the bog to see it.
The trail is a loop and eventually crosses Yew Creek again until you arrive back at the parking lot.
What to Look For in the Cranberry Bog
As you walk along the boardwalk trail, there are many interesting things to look for.
- Notice the red spruce, hemlock and yellow birch trees...they have shallow roots and require a lot of water, making the bog a perfect habitat.
- Cranberry vines are easiest to see in Round Glade. They are really small and look kind of like weeds!
- If you see several trees standing in a neat row, thank a nurse log. After a tree falls and tumbles into the bog, the trunk served as a nursery area for seedlings. That's why they grow in a row; it's along what used to be a tree trunk.
- Orchids grow in Flag Glade. You can see Rose Pogonia (snake-mouth orchid) in July and sometimes late June.
Plants of the Cranberry Glade Bog
Christmas & Cinnamon Fern
When to Visit the Cranberry Glades Bog
The bogs are open to the public as long as the road and trails are accessible. The best time to see various plants in bloom is late June and throughout July. Autumn offers fewer plants in flower, but the fall foliage is beautiful. The photos accompanying this article were taken by the author in late September, and offered some spectacular colors among the various ferns.
© 2013 Jeanne Grunert