There are accounts of local residents being able to find ice in the mountain's base vents as late in the year as September during the 1800s. At church picnics during that era, Ice Mountain ice was used to cool lemonade and crank out homemade ice cream. Civil War soldiers are said to have used the larger vents to store food.
"At one time, the ice may have lasted the entire year," Kite said, "but it seems to be formed seasonally now."
Kite said the earliest reliable temperature record taken at an ice vent on the Hampshire County peak he is aware of took place on an August day in the 1960s, when a reading of 3.5 degrees Celsius, or about 38 degrees Fahrenheit, was recorded. "In August, during the years I've been coming here, I've never seen anything lower than 7 degrees Celsius, or about 45 degrees Fahrenheit," he said.
Air flowing from the mountain's base vents is, on average, about 15 degrees cooler than outside air temperatures. Kite said there are days in late April and May when it can be nearly 60 degrees cooler.
On a visit to the site last week, Kite recorded an air temperature reading of 45 degrees Fahrenheit inside a large vent, while the air temperature a short distance away from the opening was 60 degrees. Cool air was flowing out of the vent at the rate of 1.5 mph.
While Ice Mountain's unique ecosystem might have survived 10,000 years of climate fluctuations so far, Bartgis said, "we need to take steps to help make sure this unique place stays resilient" in the face of forest pests, invasive species and a warming planet. "The world's changing more quickly, with more stressors," he said.
While greenhouse gas emissions need to be addressed, he said, attention also should be given to controlling deer browsing, invasive plants, damaging pests and other things that cause stress to plants living in Ice Mountain's low-temperature microclimate.
The Nature Conservancy is treating shade-giving hemlock trees to keep them free from the hemlock woolly adelgid, an invasive insect that is decimating hemlock stands across the Eastern United States. To avoid compacting soil and damaging rare plants, visitation at the Ice Mountain Preserve is limited to docent-led hikes along established trails. Hikes can be arranged by visiting www.nature.org/icemountain.
"Setting aside a place like this is important," Bartgis said, "but it doesn't mean the conservation work is done."
Ice Mountain is the 14th National Natural Landmark to be designated in West Virginia, and the first site in the Mountain State to become a part of the National Park Service-administered program since the 1970s. National Natural Landmarks must have unique biological or geological features, and pass a scientific panel's evaluation process and a peer review. The National Natural Landmark program includes 593 sites.
During a ceremony Thursday in the North River Mills United Methodist Church, adjacent to the preserve, Beth Johnson, director of the National Park Service's Resource Stewardship and Science program, presented a plaque bearing the preserve's new landmark status to Nature Conservancy officials.
Reach Rick Steelhammer at rsteelham...@wvgazette.com or 304-348-5169.