NORTH RIVER MILLS – Hikers interested in seeing Hampshire County’s unique geologic site known as “Nature’s Ice Box” can sign up now for a special Potomac Valley Audubon Society field trip later this month.
The land – also home to one of the most stunning views of West Virginia – has been owned since 1991 by The Nature Conservancy, which allows small groups regular guided hikes to the summit.
Just 15 people can take the Aug. 25 hike being organized by the Potomac Valley Audubon Society, said Peter Smith, a spokesman for the group. Master naturalist Clark Dixon will lead the hike into the preserve, starting at 10 a.m.
The 149-acre property was in private hands for generations, but became protected land following its purchase by The Nature Conservancy. In May, the site was designated a National Natural Landmark.
According to the National Park Service, Ice Mountain gets its name from the refrigeration effect that takes place inside its talus, a sloping mass of boulders.
In cooler months, dense, cold air sinks deep into the talus and ice masses form. As the weather warms, the cooler air flows out of vents among the rocks at the bottom of the slope. As a result, the site supports many species normally found in much colder regions.
The mountain also features an outstanding example of Devonian Oriskany sandstone cliffs, according to the National Park Service.
Smith notes that the ice itself is mostly hidden from view deep within the rocks but cold air flows continually from a series of vents at the bottom of the slope. Historically, he said, Native Americans and early settlers used the vents for storing perishable food in the warm months.
“Now the vents are of interest primarily because they create a unique ecosystem that supports Canadian, Alpine, and even Arctic species of plants in addition to native Appalachian species,” Smith said.
The preserve also has high sandstone cliffs offering impressive views and rock chimneys that are home to large ravens. It’s also possible to see eagles there, Smith said.