Discover 6 Secrets hidden in the Birthplace of Rivers

Enjoying the water at Slaty Creek Photo courtesy – David Lillard –

Deep in the Allegany Mountains of West Virginia, a special place called the Birthplace of Rivers provides snowmelt-fed spring water along with smaller runoff streams that combine to form the headwaters of six vital river systems. The rivers located within the boundaries of a proposed national monument in the Monongahela National Forest are the Cranberry, Cherry, Gauley, Elk, Williams, and Greenbrier.

Recently, there has been a huge citizen-led effort to protect the Birthplace of Rivers as a national monument, a status that can be conveyed by the President or by Congress. There are many reasons to designate this area as a monument. Most people know that the area:

  • Is critical to maintaining the fresh drinking water of over a million people.
  • Provides rest and recreation for locals and a growing number of tourists each year.
  • Is a haven for outdoor sports like mountain biking; hiking, hunting, and fishing.
  • Needs to be protected from widespread industrial development.
Only a few people know that Birthplace of Rivers has amazing secrets hidden in the mountains and streams.
  1. Hiking the Cranberry Wilderness is a physical challenge. Usually, a day filled with marveling at the red spruce forest and abundant wildlife including black bears, but the real secret of the wilderness reveals itself when the sun disappears over the horizon. This area is one of the few Dark-sky Star Gazing sites in the Eastern United States.
Milky Way Galaxy Mountain Sky Lake Reflection
Milky Way Galaxy Mountain Sky Lake Reflection – Photo courtesy

Or for easier access try driving along the Scenic Highway where there are four scenic overlooks   in the dark zone. There are picnic areas including portable restrooms.  Bring a comfortable folding chair and enjoy the view.  There are even apps like  Skyview  or Google Skymap  for your phone that with help from your GPS tell you what constellations you can see from your chair.

Starry Sky After Sunset in West Virginia – Photo Courtesy –
  1. Another secret lies just below the Hills of Falls Creek where the creek water disappears into underground caves deep underneath the mountain and emerges on the other side, where it splits into two tributaries, the Spring and Droop Creeks.
Waterfall at Hills of Falls Creek Photo courtesy –
  1. A historical secret you’ll find hidden in the Cranberry Wilderness is the remnants of Mill Point prison camp, called the Prison Without Walls. This prison held among other criminals, a group of conscientious objectors during World War II.
View of the prison camp, 1943. From the collection of Ed Friel
View of the prison camp, 1943. From the collection of Ed Friel
  1. For winter skiing buffs the mountains catch high amounts of lake effect snows in the winter. There are great trails at Elk River Touring Center and slopes at  Snowshoe Mountain just to the Southwest of the Birthplace of Rivers also provides ultimate skiing and recreational opportunities.
Skiing a trail at Elk River Touring Center - Photo courtesy of Elk River Touring Center
Skiing a trail at Elk River Touring Center
Skiing In West Virginia Photo Courtesy - OkiGater - Flicker
Skiing at Snowshoe, West Virginia
Photo Courtesy – OkiGater – Flicker
  1. One of the greatest secrets of Birthplace of Rivers is how it functions simultaneously as a rain catchment and natural water pump to supply the millions of gallons of water that flows down into watersheds. Essentially, the terrain creates a double rain shadow that directs precipitation down into streams and creeks that feed water into major rivers that provide fresh water to millions. Its unique combination of topography and geology are a true miracle.

6.  On a broader front, the mountains and forests provide a critical green buffer between more urban and industrialized areas. They act as a carbon sink  for C02 that would otherwise be added to the ever-growing amount of greenhouse gasses causing climate warming.

View of the mountains – Monongahela Forest
For those that know its secrets and love the mountains of West Virginia, a national monument status would provide Birthplace of Rivers shelter from the encroachments of the surrounding world of industrialization in the state. It is a positive solution for the mountains, which hold the hopes and secrets of generations of West Virginians and the promise of tomorrow.

If you would like more information about  West Virginia rivers and water systems or how to get involved with the effort to protect the Birthplace of Rivers, please see West Virginia Rivers Coalition’s, Honoring West Virginia’s Headwaters: Birthplace of Rivers National Monument.

Gorgeous view of Williams River - Photo courtesy of Mark Muse -
Gorgeous view of Williams River – Photo courtesy of Mark Muse –






26 Comments on “Discover 6 Secrets hidden in the Birthplace of Rivers

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    Where are your contact information though?

    • Hi Timothy,

      I generally try to answer all comments withion a week. I’m glad that Birthplace of the Rivers is of great importance to you. I’m praying for all affected by these terrible floods.

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