CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Ice Mountain in Hampshire County has been designated a national natural landmark, U.S. Interior Secretary Ken Salazar announced Friday, as part of the 50th-anniversary observance of the National Natural Landmarks program.
California's Lake Shasta Caverns also were designated a national natural landmark on Friday.
"With the addition of these two outstanding sites, we now have 593 national natural landmarks representing the extraordinary geological and ecological diversity of our nation," Salazar said. "These designations provide a means to work in voluntary partnership with public and private landowners to research, monitor and preserve our natural treasures for generations to come."
Ice Mountain gets its name from the natural refrigeration effect that occurs inside its talus -- a sloping mass of shattered sandstone boulders at the foot of the 1,500-foot-tall peak. In cooler months, dense, cold air sinks deep into the talus, causing masses of ice to form inside. As the weather warms up, cool air flows out of vents found among the boulders at the base of the slope.
"Even during the middle of summer, the air coming out of those vents is always significantly cooler" than ambient air temperatures, said Amy Cimarolli, director of science and stewardship for The Nature Conservancy of West Virginia, which protects Ice Mountain in a 149-acre preserve.
Earlier residents of North River Mills, the community nearest Ice Mountain, would make summertime visits to the talus vents, where they would chip off chunks of ice to bring home to chill lemonade or use to make homemade ice cream.
Botanists later discovered that the cool air flowing out of the nearly 60 vents at the base of the talus slope produced a microclimate that supported a community of boreal plants usually found at more northern locations.
"To me, the most fascinating plant found there is the twinflower, which is found in the far north around the globe, from Scandinavia to Alaska," said Rodney Bartgis, director of The Nature Conservancy's West Virginia office.
While scattered populations of twinflowers do occur at more southerly locations, Bartgis said, it is rare to find the species at such a low elevation -- about 700 feet above sea level at the base of Ice Mountain -- at these latitudes.
Twinflowers, which each produce two tiny bell-shaped flowers, were the favorite species of Swedish botanist Carl Linnaeus, the father of the modern system of botanical nomenclature. The plant was given the scientific name Linnaea borealis in his honor.