Monongahela National Forest was established following passage of the 1911 Weeks Act, which authorized the federal purchase of land for long-term watershed protection and natural resource management following massive cutting of the Eastern forests in the late 1800s and at the turn of the century.
In 1915 7,200 acres in the mountains of West Virginia near Parsons were acquired by the federal government, and called the Monongahela Purchase. Monongahela National Forest was officially designated April 28, 1920, incorporating the original purchase tract. Over the years additional lands were acquired within the 1.7 million-acre proclamation boundary of the Forest. Today the Forest occupies more than 919,000 acres in 10 counties in the highlands of the West Virginia.
Located within a day's drive of about half of the nation's population, the Forest is both popular and accessible; yet feels remote and wild.
The Monongahela is one of the most biologically diverse national forests, and is considered by The Nature Conservancy to be in an area of global ecological importance. Much of this diversity can be attributed to the wide variations in elevation and the resulting patterns of precipitation. The lowest part of the Forest is on the eastern side and is about 1,000 feet above sea level, while the central portion of the Forest contains the State's highest peak, Spruce Knob at an elevation of 4,863 feet above sea level.
Most of the weather patterns approach the Forest from the west where they are forced up and over the Appalachian Mountains that form the spine of Monongahela National Forest. As this happens, moisture is wrung from the clouds in the form of snow and rain. The western side of the Forest receives about 60 inches of precipitation per year while the "rain shadow" side on the east receives half of that.
The mountain ranges lie in a northeast to southwest pattern, with valleys between for most of the Forest. An airplane ride over the Forest would clearly illustrate this ridge and valley pattern, along with the more broken and less distinct landforms in the most northerly portions of the Forest. Rivers and streams are abundant throughout the Forest, and act as a travel corridor for both plants and animals, which further increases the biological complexity. Elevation changes on the slope of a single mountain ridge cause micro-climates as indicated by vegetation.
At least 75 tree species are found in the Forest, more than 225 species of birds, 8 federally-listed threatened or endangered species of birds, bats, salamanders and plants, 60 species of nongame/forage fish, 12 species of game fish, and numerous other species of wildlife inhabit the Forest.
The natural resources of the Forest lead to a wide number of uses, ranging from extensive recreational opportunities to timber harvesting, from grazing of livestock to mineral extraction, and from clean drinking water to a place to simply recharge.