Deep in the heart of Hampshire County, West Virginia there is a place where between the songs of tree frogs and woodpeckers you can walk along a trail and come upon a rush of cool refreshing air flowing from the vents of Ice Mountain. Thanks to the tireless efforts of local residents and members of the Nature Conservancy more than 150 acres of the land at Ice Mountain is now a National Natural Landmark, West Virginia’s first in more than 40 years. Because of the vents at the base of the mountain there are several species of plant and animal life that typically are found in either higher elevations or in colder climates. West Virginia Nature Conservancy Director Rodney Bartgis says it is important to preserve this land because of the changes of land use in the region. Bartgis says the National Park Service designation is the NPS ‘s way of saying the land is a treasure not just for West Virginia but the entire United States and it is of importance to all Americans.
WVU Geology Professor Steve Kite has been studying Ice Mountain since 2003. When Kite took the temperature difference between the air coming out of the vents and the surrounding air it was about 15 degrees different. He says during the spring there could be a 60 degree difference. He says one thing he has noticed from studying the vents is that temperatures coming from the vents are warming up ahead of schedule and the ice is melting earlier. The wind was blowing out at about 1 and a half miles an hour and the top speed is about 2 miles per hour. Kite says there are more than 160 vents. Kite says many of the plants that are there now have been part of the ecosystem for 12 thousand years.
Terry Bailes and her husband Steve who have grown up around Ice Mountain are the volunteer coordinators. She says Ice Mountain has a rich history. It was used by Native Americans and soldiers from both the north and south during the civil war and members of the local church would have festivals with ice cream and lemonade made from the ice of the mountain. Besides leading tours and working with the volunteers every summer the Bailes host a group of inner city New York children to come and experience Ice Mountain.
Elizabeth Johnson with the National Park Service says the designation recognizes the uniqueness of the area. Mike Powell with the Nature Conservancy says the designation brings national focus to Ice Mountain which is something all West Virginians can be proud of.
Ice Mountain is open to the public. You can sign up for volunteer led tours by logging on to natureconservancy.org