Do the clouds seem bigger to you? Four days in the Dolly Sods Wilderness

View in Dolly Sods Wilderness. Photo by Jeremy Cherson.

Rain was pouring down around my green car as a couple of my friends and I traveled up an endless forest road to the Dolly Sods Wilderness in West Virginia's Monongahela National Forest. Behind us, an unmarked white vehicle had been following us for what seemed to be 10 miles. Nervousness abounded because the weather was quickly deteriorating. Visibility became so poor that I stopped the car and carefully approached the white truck behind us. Behind the wheel was a kind lady who reassured us that the Sods was four miles ahead to the left but to be careful because there was a tornado warning for the area — it looked like we came to the right place.

The wind was howling, rain was pouring, and thunder seemed to speak from behind a veil of a fog. Could this be the Mid-Atlantic? No, this was wilderness, land too wild to be developed, which provides clean water, fresh air, wildlife habitat, and an unmatched experience for recreation.

Finally, the sun made a grand entrance; illuminating an expanse of meadows, rolling hills, over sized clouds, and mystical spires of light. Hiking in the Sods transports you to Alaska or Canada a mere three hours from Washington D.C. Every new vista is more breathtaking and awe-inspiring than the last. One minute you are immersed in windswept blueberry fields, only to find yourself in a boreal forest the next. The only thing you can count on in the Sods is constant change of weather and scenery.

Now, picture yourself climbing up to a ridge line. As you climb higher, the valleys below appear more outstanding until two smoke stacks from a nearby power plant intrude on the beauty. Regrettably, adjacent property often threatens our public lands. The existence of Dolly Sods is owed in part to a hidden gem called the Land and Water Conservation Fund. The LWCF enables federal and state governments to expand public lands through the purchase of in holdings and adjacent private property. Nearly every county in America has benefited from the fund. Tragically, the LWCF has been woefully underfunded, reducing its ability to benefit the public.

Across America there are lands deserving protection from the pressures that threaten them. We have an opportunity to restore the LWCF to its full potential with the passage of The Land and Water Conservation Authorization and Funding Act, a bill in the U.S. Senate (S. 2747). This bill will ensure that LWCF can’t be raided in the future, and will give communities all across America access to more quality outdoor recreation, wildlife habitat, clean water and clean air.

LWCF funds were used to purchase Dolly Sods south because it is a rugged valley surrounded by steep slopes covered in rich hardwood stands of birch, poplar, and oak: a gem of biodiversity. When I stood knee deep in Red Creek, the beauty was stunning until I realized the only way out was up. Suddenly, thunder roared through the valley: conditions can change instantly in the Sods, creating immediate danger. With only seven miles to go, the rain came, our water was running low, and with a lack of foresight we ate our lunch for breakfast, leaving us hungry on the most difficult section of the trail. Finally, the reward came – the car. We were lucky enough to have explored over 25 miles of the Sods. Not everyone gets such an experience, and not every place gets protection. The fight for full and dedicated funding has been a grueling uphill battle with no end in sight until now. The peak is near; all we need is the courage, will, and foresight to view a new landscape of outdoor recreation for all Americans.

Ask for full and dedicated funding for the Land and Water Conservation Fund, please contact your representatives today.