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Panther State Forest


Panther State Forest, West Virginia’s southernmost state forest, is located near Iaeger in "McDowell County": The forest derives its name from Panther Creek. In 1940, the state of West Virginia, to meet a need for public recreational facilities in the southern coalfields, decided to establish a state forest in the Panther Creek area. William “Bill” Keyser, editor of the _Welch Daily News_, spearheaded a campaign to raise funds for the project. A ‘‘Pennies for Panther’’ drive collected small donations from school children, union locals, service clubs, and other organizations. They raised $9,423.42.

Panther State Forest was the scene of considerable controversy in the 1960s. In 1962, the Department of Natural Resources entered into a lease with the State Line Development Company to mine coal beneath the forest. The company’s president was then-Speaker of the House Harry Pauley (D-McDowell). The Kanawha County Circuit Court later determined—and, in 1970, the state Supreme Court affirmed—that the lease was invalid but not before significant environmental damage had occurred.

Today, Panther is rich in plant life. Among its wildflowers are mayapple, fire pink, touch-me-nots, jack-in-the-pulpit, bishop’s cap, and blood-root. Cross vine, typically a southern species, has been observed in the forest.

In 2008, most of the forest was re-designated as Panther Wildlife Management Area, with only a small recreational area remaining Panther State Forest. The 7,810-acre forest/wildlife management area offers hunting and fishing and has a swimming pool, a 60-person group camp, and a small campground, along with day-use facilities such as hiking trails, picnic areas, and game courts. The area is co-managed by the Division of Natural Resources Wildlife Resources section and Parks and Recreation section.

Written by Robert Beanblossom


  1. Beanblossom, Robert. Panther State Forest: Recreational Jewel of McDowell County. Wonderful West Virginia, (Aug. 1987).