New River State Park  »  Ecology

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Dense forests once blanketed the land in the New River valley, but most of the virgin forest was cut or cleared and the woodlands now consist of second- or third-growth trees. Nevertheless, an abundance of forest cover grows primarily on ridges and on the steep slopes of the valley wall.

The soil is fertile and much of it is moist, supporting many species of hardwoods, pines, shrubs and wildflowers. More than half of the forest cover is an oak/hickory hardwood community. Oaks, hickories, maples and pines grow where the soil is relatively shallow and dry. The moist soil along the river's tributary streams supports a more diverse flora including American beech, black gum, yellow poplar, black locust and yellow birch. Hemlocks and pines grow at higher elevations. The understory includes dogwood, sourwood, sassafras, huckleberries, alders and hydrangeas. Mountain laurel and rhododendron grow on north-facing slopes and add color to the woodlands in winter and beautiful flowers in the spring.

At least 14 species of rare, threatened or endangered plants grow in the valley. They include rattlesnake root, Carolina saxifrage, Carey's saxifrage, spreading avens and purple sedge. Please help preserve our diverse natural heritage by leaving these valuable species in their natural habitats for all to enjoy.

Diverse animal species make their homes in the New River Valley. White-tailed deer are common and black bears are seen occasionally. Mink, muskrat, river otter and raccoon may be encountered along the river. Beaver have been reintroduced to the area.

Bird life is abundant and varied, and the valley is home to several nesting birds uncommon in other parts of the state. A population of wild turkeys is present in lowland forests and ruffed grouse may be seen at higher elevations. Sightings of ospreys along the river have increased in recent years. Red-tailed hawks nest on cliffs above the river. Scarlet tanagers, American goldfinches and indigo buntings provide brilliant flashes of color, and serious bird watchers look for uncommon species including black-billed cuckoo, willow and least flycatchers, warbling vireo, golden-winged warbler, and northern oriole. Spotted sandpipers, belted kingfishers and wood ducks are also encountered along the waterways.

Wet summer evenings bring choruses of frogs, common in the wetlands adjacent to the river and its streams. Salamanders thrive in shallow, rocky tributaries while nonvenomous water snakes can be seen along the river's edge. A variety of lizards and turtles occupy the region.