Project Remote Explores West Virginia
Ryan and Rebecca Means take “getting away from it all” to a whole new level. They’re over halfway through Project Remote, an endeavor to identify, explore, and document the remotest locations within each state in pursuit of scienc
e and conservation. The Means conduct extensive research using a Geographic Information System to determine the point farthest from any road within the boundaries of a particular state. Then they hit the trail (or boat) to work their way toward the remote spot, often bushwhacking cross country, and always with daughter Skyla in tow. Their travels have taken them a scant 1.1 miles from pavement in Connecticut and a challenging 21.6 miles in Wyoming, the most remote location in the Lower 48 that’s not on an island. Once arrived at their remote destination, the Means record observations pertaining to qualities such as noise, visible human presence, cell coverage, etc.
The remotest spot in West Virginia is within the Cranberry Wilderness of the Monongahela National Forest. Despite being in the “heart” of the Cranberry, the largest Forest Service wilderness area east of the Mississippi, the remote spot is still only 3.2 miles from the nearest road, a fact that highlights the challenge of finding quality backcountry recreational opportunities in the mid Atlantic. Furthermore, the Means were able to hike along an old railroad grade to within 0.2 miles of the remote spot, a relic of the turn-of-the-century logging history of the region and a physical reminder why the Monongahela National Forest was established in the first place - to protect downstream water quality from the ravages of headwaters clear cutting.
Despite the area’s human history, second growth forest hides most of the logging scars, proving that nature will heal that which is left alone. West Virginia’s remote spot was one of only four of the 33 spots the Means have been to thus far in Project Remote without any observable human presence. The exact coordinates of their research led them to a steep hillside of eastern hemlock. In the vicinity of our remote spot the Means documented black bear scat, chorus frogs, and the clean waters of the Middle Fork of the Williams River. They didn’t have any cell phone coverage, but that could be said for much of the state!
The Means family hopes that their efforts on Project Remote will preserve meaningful wilderness experiences from the influences of development and facilitate deeper relationships between people and wild places. Coincidentally, a group of motivated and concerned West Virginians is trying to do just that! The Cranberry Wilderness, along with West Virginia’s remote spot, would be at the core of a 120,000 acre area preserving Appalachian forests, the headwaters of six world class trout rivers, the state’s second highest waterfall, and a unique Ice Age plant community that lingers in a cool bog. Dubbed “The Birthplace of Rivers,” the proposal asks for National Monument designation of these special and remote places, increasing protections from the threats of future development while guaranteeing access for all the traditional recreational uses of the area that we’ve come to love.
As Rebecca, Ryan, and Skyla Means can attest, true remoteness is a rare, valuable, and vulnerable resource. And they ask “what will we leave the next generation?” West Virginia has some of the best remaining wilderness and remoteness in the East. What better way to cherish our good fortune and protect it all the more than by supporting Birthplace of Rivers National Monument?