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Cathedral State Park, WV

photo by Mary Reed

Those bumper stickers that read, “Daddy, what were forests like?” seem a bit melodramatic, don’t they? But the reality is, your grandkids may grow up to think of hemlocks the same way we think of American Chestnuts – long extinct. That’s why now is the time to worship at the altar of Cathedral State Park’s old-growth hemlock forest, which includes trees measuring up to 21 feet in diameter.

An aphid-like bug called the hemlock woolly adelgid is literally sucking the life out of hemlocks across the East. “In West Virginia, we’ve already had thousands of hemlocks that have been killed. We have found it in 30 counties,” says Karen Kish, forest entymologist for the West Virginia Department of Agriculture. “There really isn’t much damage in Cathedral yet, although Cathedral is infested with hemlock woolly adelgid.”

Kish estimates that, without successful treatment, the state champion hemlock and its brethren at Cathedral will die within 20 years. But scientists are working on both biological controls (insect predators) and chemical treatments. You’ll see metal tags on treated trees along the Giant Hemlock Trail. “Cathedral is such a beautiful park,” Kish says, “we’re doing everything we can to make sure we don’t lose those trees.”

Kids will love the place, especially if you encourage them to look for fairies jumping out from behind the trees. And if fairies do exist, this is surely where they live, due to the combined magic of giant evergreens, a mossy forest floor, dappled light, flowers, ferns and Rhine Creek’s swift water.

The trails are flat and easy, making this a good family getaway. And what they lack in length (just over three miles in total) they more than make up for in splendor. Trail names such as Wood Thrush, Trillium and Partridge Berry give you an idea of some of the hundreds of plant and animal species you’ll encounter while you’re there. Plan to hike, take photos and enjoy a picnic lunch in this unique place. Your energy might be renewed to fight for big trees everywhere while scientists look for a solution to the woolly adelgid problem.

Where it’s at: 2 ½ hours from Pittsburgh, Cathedral State Park is located on US 50 about five miles west of the Maryland state line

Contact: www.cathedralstatepark.com or (304) 735-3771

Digs: Nearby Blackwater Falls State Park has camping ($18-$21/night), cabins ($86 and up/night) and a lodge ($76-$119/night), www.blackwaterfalls.com; the Bright Morning Inn and café ($85-$129, www.brightmorninginn.com or 304-259-5119) is in Davis, about 30 minutes south

Grub: Melanie’s Family Restaurant is right across the street. Breakfast is served all day and only two breakfast options cost more than $5, (304) 735-3219.

Brew:Blackwater Brewing Company, also in Davis, www.blackwater-brewing.com or (304) 259-4221

Gear and Outfitting: Highland Prospects in Davis, www.highlandprospects.com or (304) 259-5656