GREEN BOTTOM, W.Va. -- After strolling the gated roads and edges of former hayfields near the south shore of the Ohio River at the Green Bottom Wildlife Management Area for a little less than an hour one day last week, my half-gallon container was filled with ripe blackberries.
My synthetic fabric T-shirt, on the other hand, was approaching death from 1,000 brier cuts, and it looked like a pack of feral kittens had attacked my arms. Note to self: Next time you go berry picking, wear a sturdy long-sleeved shirt.
But the sacrifice was worth it. In addition to spending some quality quiet time in a scenic setting, within a few hours I was chomping my way through a 13-by-9-inch stretch of ice cream-topped blackberry cobbler.
Above-average summer rains and warm temperatures have produced an abundant crop of wild berries this year, sending wild fruit lovers across West Virginia into the mountains, overgrown fields and forest edges in search of blackberries, blueberries, huckleberries and their more exotic kin.
"It's definitely a bumper year for blueberries," said Rodney Bartgis, a botanist and director of The Nature Conservancy in West Virginia, headquartered in Elkins. "It's rare to see blueberries like we have this year. Ample rain, well distributed throughout the growing season, is a big part of it."
Bartgis and his wife, Debra Auble, were among those picking blueberries and huckleberries last week on the brushy flats surrounding Forest Road 75 atop Dolly Sods, where The Nature Conservancy's Bear Rocks Preserve can be found at the north end of the Grant County plateau.
Berry picking for personal use is allowed without permit on both the Bear Rocks Preserve and on the surrounding Monongahela National Forest.
"Some of my earliest memories as a toddler are of going to Dolly Sods to pick blueberries with my family," Bartgis said. "It's great to be able to carry on the tradition a half-century later with Debra, and to see the fun families have at our Bear Rocks Preserve creating the same kind of memories today."
Among other wild blueberry-picking hot spots is the new Little Canaan Valley Wildlife Management Area near Davis, where pickers travel Camp 70 Road along the Blackwater River to reach expanses of berry bushes.
"There are wonderful fields along an eight-mile stretch of the Forest Service road [Forest Road 13] between Blackwater Falls State Park and Canaan Valley State Park, easily accessed from Route 32," according to Emily Grafton, an instructor for the Division of Natural Resources' Master Naturalist program.
Grafton said another popular blueberry-picking area on public land is found atop Bald Knob at Canaan Valley State Park, which can be reached by a short hike from the top of the park's ski lift, which operates during the summer and fall. Nearby Timberline Four Season Resort also operates an off-season chairlift that provides easy access to prime blueberry and huckleberry picking atop Cabin Mountain at the western edge of Dolly Sods.