joins 14 other sites in West Virginia
that have nationally significant biological and geological resources. The
mountain is a long ridge that runs from south to north between Capon
Bridge and Slanesville in Hampshire
Rodney Bartgis, director of West Virginia’s Nature Conservancy chapter, said there are
other similar mountains in the state’s Eastern Panhandle, but Ice
Mountain has a feature that the
others don’t, a large rocky accumulation of boulders on its northwestern ridge
face called a talus.
“And in the winter cold air descends into that talus and
gets insulated from the outside temperatures by the overlying rock,” Bartgis
said. “In essence ice accumulates and with that insulation it then only very
slowly starts to melt off as the temperatures warm in the spring.”
“As warm air rises that cold air in the talus sinks and
comes out at the base of that rock outcrop,” Bartgis added. “And where that air
comes out in what are called ice vents it’s often cooler than the surrounding
Bartgis said historically Ice
Mountain was a popular place for
people to visit in the summer months, picnicking and enjoying the cool air that
flows from the vents at the base of the mountain.
“And in the 19th century and into the early 20th
century people used to visit Ice Mountain in the summer and dig out the ice to
make ice cream in the summer,” Bartgis said. “One of the local land owners even
built a little ice house sort of at the base of the rocks to store milk and
things like that in the summer.”
Bartgis said the cool air that seeps out of the rock creates
a good environment for plants that are typically found further north or in much
higher elevations. He said one of the most interesting is Twin Flower.
“Twin flower is this little creeping plant that puts up two
beautiful purple blossoms that are bell shaped on a short stalk,” Bartgis said.
“It’s very lovely when it blooms, and it’s normally found in the far north, so
you find it in Scandinavia and Canada
Bartgis said Twin Flower is found through the high mountains
in both the Rockies and the Appalachians.
“So to have it not only at Ice
Mountain at one of the southern
most sites for it but to have it at such a low elevation is extremely unusual,”
Bartgis said another rare plant that grows at Ice
Mountain is the Appalachian Oak Fern,
a species that wasn’t even named by scientists until the 1990’s.
“And it’s found only in the Appalachian Mountains
and there’s a very healthy population of it at Ice
Mountain as well,” Bartgis said.
The Nature Conservancy has been concerned that climate
change might affect Ice Mountain.
Bartgis said there’s anecdotal evidence that the ice that builds up all winter
is melting more quickly during the warm months.
Since 2003 West Virginia
University professor and researcher
Steve Kite has been monitoring the temperatures at the ice vents.
“And for instance this year, the time when the temperature
got up to about two or three degrees Fahrenheit happened three weeks earlier
than in any of the previous years that he’s been monitoring,” Bartgis said.
Despite the fact that the ice seems to be melting more
quickly Bartgis said the rare plants growing at Ice Mountain that depend on the
cool air seem to be doing fine.
While the Conservancy can’t control rising temperatures,
Bartgis said the organization is taking whatever steps it can to reduce stress
on the ecosystem there.
“For instance, the ice vents are also partly kept cool by
the shading of the hemlock trees,” Bartgis said. “And there is an insect pest
that was introduced from Asia to eastern North
America that’s killing off hemlocks and we’ve seen a lot of
hemlock mortality in eastern West Virginia.”
Bartgis said the Conservancy is injecting the hemlocks trees
at Ice Mountain
with an insecticide to keep them alive so they can continue to help cool the
Bartgis said Ice Mountain’s
designation as a National Natural Landmark will bring more attention to the
preserve from outside the region and will hopefully raise awareness of its
biological significance and the threats it faces.