Concord University Students Document Old-Growth Forest at New River Gorge National Park & Preserve

ATHENS, W.Va. –  Eight Concord University students worked with Dr. Tom Saladyga, associate professor of Geography, to describe a previously undocumented old-growth forest near Fayetteville, West Virginia.

Their work was recently published as a National Park Service Technical Report titled “Documenting remnant old growth at New River Gorge National Park & Preserve: A pre-industrial legacy forest at the Burnwood area.”

Excerpt from the Executive Summary:

This report provides the first detailed assessment of old growth at New River Gorge National Park & Preserve and in southern West Virginia in general. Large-diameter (> 50 cm DBH) tree density and coarse woody debris (CWD) volume were within the range of values reported for eastern old-growth forests, while tree age surpassed 300 years in some cases. The forest, however, is not characterized by the “pristine” conditions often ascribed to old growth. Fire and then fire exclusion, invasive pests and pathogens, and climate change have and will continue to collectively shape the future of this preindustrial legacy forest. The results of this report can be used to inform resource management objectives as well as interpretive programming at New River Gorge National Park & Preserve.

Contributing students:

  • Ricardo Chinea-Pegler (Environmental Geosciences)
  • Madison Cook (Environmental Geosciences)
  • Madison Cornett (Biology/Environmental Geosciences)
  • Haidyn DePinho (Environmental Geosciences)
  • Keiley Dudding (Biology)
  • Joey Duffer (Environmental Geosciences)
  • Mitchell Roush (Environmental Geosciences)
  • Andrew Trump (Environmental Geosciences)


Saladyga, T., R. Chinea-Pegler, M. Cook, M. Cornett, H. DePinho, K. Dudding, J. Duffer, M. Roush, and A. Trump. 2023. Documenting remnant old growth at New River Gorge National Park & Preserve: A pre-industrial legacy forest at the Burnwood area. Natural Resource Report NPS/NERI/NRR—2023/2504. National Park Service, Fort Collins, Colorado.

Lexi Foster, a 2022 graduate of Concord University, also created a mini-documentary about this project:–q_VOfm0c8

For more information about Concord University’s Department of Physical & Environmental Sciences programs, visit the website at

To learn more about Concord’s Environmental Geography Lab, visit

Forest plot field methods. Clockwise from top left: Measuring the diameter of a red maple; counting seedlings in a micro plot; collecting a core sample from an eastern hemlock; and measuring the diameter of coarse woody debris (CWD) (© ALEXIS FOSTER; THOMAS SALADYGA [upper left photo]).

Tree core samples and analyses. Clockwise from top left: Mounted and sanded tree cores; visually crossdating a tree core sample under magnification; and a screen image of annual ring-width measurements in CooRecorder software (© ALEXIS FOSTER; THOMAS SALADYGA [screen image]).

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Lindsey Byars
Concord University
Office of Advancement
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(304) 384-6312

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