To celebrate the colorful arrival of wildflowers in the state’s higher elevations, Blackwater Falls State Park hosts the annual West Virginia Wildflower Pilgrimage. “The West Virginia Wildflower Pilgrimage is one of the longest running special events sponsored by the DNR,” says Assistant to the Director of DNR Emily Fleming. “Tours feature not only spring wildflowers, but also birds, geology and, of course, great fun.” Because attendance averages around 300 people, Fleming says that advance reservations are required.
This “wildflower weekend” differs from other events because the park is used as a starting point for excursions into surrounding areas, including Dolly Sods, Canaan Valley, the Fernow Experimental Forest and Seneca Rocks. “The Fernow Experimental Forest outside Parsons is rich with a variety of spring wildflowers,” says P.J. Harmon, a botanist with the DNR’s Heritage Program. “Dolly Sods is another area where you can see a wide diversity of spring blooms, including, if you’re lucky, wild bleeding heart. And one of the best areas in the state for rare plants, rare animals and rare natural communities is Canaan Valley; it is a fascinating place.”
Although most tours do leave the park, Harmon says there are plenty of activities for folks who want to stay on-site. “We have people who come year after year who don’t have the mobility others have, so we offer wildflower identification courses at the nature center and shorter tours for those who don’t want to ride around in a car all day.”
Patrice “Sissie” Summers, programming administrator for State Parks, says that although most people focus on the spring walks and hikes, blooms occur year-round. “Everyone thinks spring is the best time to see wildflowers,” she said. “While that is a great season to be in our state parks, there are probably more blooms to be seen during the summer. They’re not always as showy as the early bloomers, but they’re still beautiful.”
Summers recommends the Margaret Denison Fall Nature Walk at Kanawha State Forest as one of the better, if not best, opportunities to see summer flowering plants. She adds that the state parks system offers hikes and interpretative programs at its facilities throughout the year, even in winter.