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The view along the Allegheny Front. / Photo courtesy Kent Mason

Bear Rocks and Allegheny Front Preserve gain 600th National Natural Landmark recognition

ELKINS, WEST VIRGINIA — The National Natural Landmark Program (NNL) has named the Bear Rocks and Allegheny Front Preserve as a National Natural Landmark during the Program’s public meeting, held on September 17, 2020. The Preserves, which total 1,204 acres, are owned by The Nature Conservancy in West Virginia and became the 600th NNL designation by Secretary of the Interior David Bernhardt this month.

The NNL Program recognizes and encourages the conservation of sites that contain outstanding biological and geological resources. Sites are designated by the Secretary of the Interior for their condition, illustrative character, rarity, diversity and value to science and education. Additional criteria states that potential sites for NNL designation must be one of the best examples of a type of biological community or geological feature in its biophysiographic province.

The National Park Service administers the program and works cooperatively with landowners, managers and partners to promote conservation and appreciation of our nation’s natural heritage.

The Bear Rocks and Allegheny Front Preserve was evaluated by scientists familiar with the site’s resources, peer reviewed by three additional scientists, considered by the NNL Committee and underwent a 60-day public commenting period. This evaluation found that this site was determined to be the best example of how tectonic activity and continental collision form regionally important mountain and plateau landscapes. The National Park Service concluded that Bear Rocks and the Allegheny Front Preserves meet the criteria for national significance.

“The designation of these Preserves brings a national spotlight and significance to a place West Virginians have known to be special for decades,” states Mike Powell, director of lands for The Nature Conservancy in West Virginia. “Conservation efforts by The Nature Conservancy go back to the 1970s on the Dolly Sods Plateau, which is now recognized as one of the premier hiking and backpacking destinations in the eastern United States.”

Globally rare plant communities and animal species call this high plateau home, which is characterized by beautiful and rich habitat of spruce and northern hardwood forests, grass and shrub barrens, sandstone boulder fields, and fens and bogs. These lands are a critical focal landscape, as the Dolly Sods Plateau is part of a resilient and connected network of lands that feature climate-resilient forests and serve as a migratory highway for animal species adapting to a changing climate.

“Dolly Sods is a place of renowned natural beauty,” states Congressman David McKinley. “The National Natural Landmark designation shines a national spotlight on the beauty of The Nature Conservancy’s Bear Rocks and the Allegheny Front Preserves, bringing attention to these lands and waters that are so important to West Virginia’s growing tourism and outdoor recreation economy.”

Bear Rocks Preserve was acquired by donation from Dominion Energy in 2000. The Nature Conservancy acquired the Allegheny Front Preserve in April 2018 with funding from the Outdoor Heritage Conservation Fund and private donors. Additional TNC-owned lands with NNL designation include Ice Mountain Preserve and Cranesville Swamp Preserve.

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