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Excerpt: Canaan comes back

"Canaan Valley had a tragic history, and its comeback has been a slow one.  A hundred years ago valley and surrounding ridges were covered by red spruce forest of a density that is hard to imagine today... The lumberman came, ultimately, and if total and permanent destruction of the entire area had been an aim it could scarcely have been more fully realized.  An official of the company boasted that in 100,000 acres they had not left on stick of timber that would make a two-by-four...
   "With all cover removed, organic material at ground level began to dry out; soon it was high-grade fuel, and the inevitable fires got started.  There followed such a ground fire as this state has never seen before or since.  For months this humus layer smoldered, and neither rains nor snows could stop the fire's slow advance.  The village of Davis was saved by a series of deep trenches around it, these kept filled with water carried from the Blackwater River.  When the destruction was complete, all vegetable material that wasn't soaked had burned, and with it all insects, worms, salamanders, mice, and other burrowing forms of life.  Bare rocks remained, and thin mineral soil, this often several feet lower than ground level in the original forest.  Canaan and its environs had become a desert...
   "Slowly at first, then more rapidly, the processes of ecological succession began to come into play... Then nature received an assist; the Civilian Conservation Corps went into operation, and one of its projects was the reforestation of Canaan Mountain.  In places there was no soil at all to work with, so trucks ran from the valley night and day, bringing dark muck soil to the mountaintop.  One bushel, sometimes two had to be used for each tree, but the roots of spruce seedlings were packed in.  They lived and they grew.  Twenty-five years later there is a beautiful young spruce forest overlooking Canaan Valley."

Source: Maurice Brooks, The Appalachians (1965).


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