As winter snows melt and the weather starts to warm, wildflower enthusiasts wait eagerly for the first blooms. Areas of lower elevation, like the Kanawha Valley, start to see colorful wildflowers first, usually around early to mid-April. Kanawha State Forest, on the outskirts of Charleston, is a great place to find some of the season’s earliest bloomers.
The Osbra Eye Memorial Wildflower Walk takes place there on the fourth Saturday of each April. Doug Wood, one of the walk’s coordinators and guides, says that the variety of wildflowers found in the forest and the range of activities offered make this one of the forest’s most popular events.
“April is a very special time of year at Kanawha State Forest because of the diversity of wildflower species in bloom there,” he said. A list of the 20-40 flowers hikers will find includes three species of Trillium – Toadshade, Large-flowered and Wakerobin, Jack-in-the-Pulpit, two species of Phlox – Smooth and Wild Sweet William, and six to seven species of Violets, including the unusual Green Violet. “Some years we’ll get a nice surprise and find Bloodroot still in bloom.”
Trees that visitors should expect to see in flower during the walk include Tulip, Umbrella Magnolia and Pawpaw. In years when the blooming season is running late, Wood says hikers also may get to see the added bonus of flowering Redbud, Sourwood and Basswood trees.
There are several leaders and trail options. Hikers can ascend to the higher areas of the forest where they might see Trailing Arbutus nestled in a cliff crevice, or opt for a trek along a stream bottom and a possible glimpse of Trout Lily. Folks who can’t or don’t want to walk very far may choose the driving tour, putting the forest’s wildflowers just a few steps from the comfort of their cars.
In addition to the wildflower hikes, organizers offer other walks that focus on general ecology, tree identification, insects and herpetology, including the salamanders, snakes, turtles and lizards of the forest. A children’s hike and nature photography session round out the day’s events.
The walk is named in honor of long-time Kanawha State Forest Superintendent Osbra Eye.