Eastern Region Viewing Area
LOCATION and PHOTOS
Great laurel (Rhododendron maximum) is the state flower of West Virginia. It can be seen in abundance in the spruce-hemlock forest around Stuart Knob, as well as in the small stream bottom near the west end of the road. Forest Service file photo.
Stuart Memorial Drive
Forest: Monongahela National Forest
District: Cheat-Potomac Ranger District
Description: Stuart Memorial Drive (Forest Road 91) is a scenic 10.3-mile road that adjoins the south side of the Otter Creek Wilderness. The road climbs from the Shaver's Fork River valley to near the top of Bickle Knob and Stuart Knob, which are two of the highest peaks in the local area. The west end of the road begins at 2,200 feet above sea level near the Shaver's Fork River, and the road reaches its highest elevation of 3,900 feet at its approximate mid-point near Stuart Knob. The eastern half of the road stays above 3,000 feet all the way to its end at Alpena Gap on the crest of Shaver's Mountain. Along the way, the road traverses through a diversity of forested and open habitats. Near the west end of the road, relatively dry, acidic soils on south-facing slopes support a forest dominated by oaks (Quercus spp.) and hickories (Carya spp.) with an understory of mountain laurel (Kalmia latifolia). As the road climbs up the slope, it passes through an area of nutrient-rich soils derived from limestone. Several National Forest grazing allotments add open pasture to the habitat mix in this area. Forest stands on these rich soils are dominated by a diverse mix of oaks, hickories, sugar maple (Acer saccharum), basswood (Tilia americana), black locust (Robinia pseudoacacia), white ash (Fraxinus americana) and other tree species. Higher up the slope, the soils are derived from calcareous shales that are rich like the limestone, but generally too erosive to support pasture. Here the climate is a bit colder and wetter, and the forest community is dominated by maples, basswood, ash, beech (Fagus grandifolia), sweet birch (Betula lenta), and northern red oak (Quercus rubra). As the road reaches the top of the ridge, the substrate changes back to acidic, nutrient-poor sandstone and the climate is colder and wetter still. Here, red spruce (Picea rubens), hemlock (Tsuga canadensis), beech, red maple (Acer rubrum), sweet birch, and yellow birch (Betula alleghaniensis) dominate the canopy, and great laurel (Rhododendron maximum) forms a nearly impenetrable shrub layer.
Wildflower Viewing: In the dry, low elevation oak-hickory forests, look for the bright orange blooms of the flame azalea (Rhododendron calendulaceum) in mid to late May. Its close cousin mountain laurel can also been found blooming here, usually in June. In the stream bottom downhill from the road, great laurel can be seen blooming in June and July. The rich hardwood forests in the middle elevations feature a profusion of spring ephemeral flowers that bloom in rapid succession from late March through early May. These include various species of violets (Viola spp.), trout lily (Erythronium americanum), toothwort (Cardamine diphylla and C. concatenata), Carolina springbeauty (Claytonia caroliniana), trilliums (Trillium spp.), blue cohosh (Caulophyllum thalictroides), wood anemone (Anemone quinquefolia), and many others. These small flowers are best seen by parking and walking one of the nearby gated Forest Service roads. By June the spring ephemerals are gone, but the white flowers of the wild leek, known locally as "ramps" (Allium tricoccum), can be seen. If you are extremely lucky, you may see the endangered running buffalo clover (Trifolium stoloniferum), which is known to occur along some of the gated roads in the area. The grazing allotments are good places to look for late-summer and fall flowers, such as goldenrods (Solidago spp.) and asters (Eurybia spp., Symphyotrichum spp.). In the spruce-hemlock forest at the top of the mountain, the main attraction is the dense understory of great laurel, which blooms in mid-summer.
Safety First: Although Stuart Memorial Drive is maintained and open to the public, it is not paved and can become rutted in wet conditions. Four-wheel drive is not needed in good weather, but the road may not be suitable for some low-clearance passenger vehicles, such as sports cars and compact cars. Occasional snow and ice can occur up to the end of April. The Forest Service does not plow the road, and snowdrifts can sometimes block the high elevation sections long after the low elevations are clear. Do not attempt to drive through snow, which may be deeper than it appears. The road is narrow and winding, so you must stay alert for oncoming vehicles. If you want to get out and hike, choose a safe place to park where you can pull your vehicle completely off the road without blocking any gates. Be alert to common woodland hazards like steep slopes, uneven ground, and poison ivy. Wood nettle (Laportea canadensis) is abundant in moist, rich woods during late spring and summer. Contact with this plant can cause an uncomfortable rash.
Directions: From the intersection of U.S. Highways 250/219 and 33 in Elkins, drive 3.4 miles east on U.S. Highway 33. Turn left on State Road 33/8 (old Highway 33) and drive about 2 miles. Just after crossing the Shaver's Fork River, turn left on State Road 6. Drive 0.4 miles and turn right on Stuart Memorial Drive (Forest Road 91). Stuart Memorial Drive is about 10 miles long. Driving the entire length of the road will return you to U.S. Highway 33 at a point that is about 11 miles east of Elkins.
Ownership and Management: U.S. Forest Service, Monongahela National Forest, Cheat-Potomac Ranger District.
Closest Incorporated Town: Elkins, West Virginia.