Monthly Archives: July 2012

New York Times’ Letter to the Editor on Planting Native Species

We came across a Letter to the Editor of The New York Times explaining the importance of planting endangered native plant species in our yards. Read the article below:

Re “Early Bloomers,” by Richard B. Primack, Abraham J. Miller-Rushing and Becca Stadtlander (Op-Ed, April 19):

The loss of many of the once abundant wildflowers and plants recorded by Henry David Thoreau and later botanists, and their replacement by nonnative invasive species like purple loosestrife and garlic mustard, is rightly attributed to increased development, pollution, roads, larger deer populations and climate change.

But our failure to include regionally endangered and locally extirpated flowers and plants in our backyard gardens and public landscapes is another contributing factor. Planting native species, instead of introductions from Asia and Europe, helps achieve the dual goals of preventing the takeover by invasive nonnative flowers and plants and the extinction of our increasingly threatened native species.

For example, the beautiful, but now rare, yellow-flowered Canada lily featured in the article is a perfect native alternative to the popular but invasive European yellow flag iris.

Gardeners and landscapers have a major role to play in preserving America’s precious legacy of native flowers and plants. And making thoughtful gardening and landscaping choices helps prevent our gardens, public landscapes and natural areas from being taken over by invasive introduced species.

Wilmette, Ill., April 20, 2012

The writer is co-author of “The Midwestern Native Garden, Native Alternatives to Nonnative Flowers and Plants.”

Customer Review

Check out Blair N.’s review of his recent trip to Nelson Rocks Outdoor Center. We are so glad he had a great experience, thanks for helping to spread the word Blair!

I did the canopy tour at Nelson Rocks and came back the next day and did the via ferrata as well.

The canopy tour is ~12 zip lines, 3 bridges and a free rappel off the last zip line platform to the ground (vice climbing down a ladder). The 2 guides were excellent and made it very pleasant and enjoyable. There were 2 kids in the group and the guides kept them entertained the whole time. For maximum safety they handle all the clipping in/out. For first timers, general scaredy cats and kids who might not clip in correctly, this is a great idea and puts you at ease. For seasoned zipliners who don’t normally need handholding it is what it is. One unique safety feature is the zip line is actually a double line. You are simultaneously clipped into two completely separate lines (one line is 6 inches above the other), making a fully redundant system. Not that you need redundancy when using 14,000-pound test steel cables, but extra safety never hurts. It is a sign of the careful thought that went into designing the course and how they run the tour. All in all a great time, great guides and a well designed and safe course.

The via ferrata was absolutely awesome. This was my third via ferrata (the other two were Whistler Mountain and Mont Tremblant) so I have a little bit of perspective. The course is really well designed and the views are spectacular.

For newbies new to via ferratas it is essentially ‘serious rock climbing for beginners’. If you’ve done a simple top rope rock climb a few times and are comfortable being on rock you might be looking for a little more adventure. However there is a big jump from a standard day climb run by the local sporting goods store or outfitter and lead climbing on bigger walls. You don’t just jump into lead climbing without some training and there is a much higher risk and danger level when placing your own cams and you have no idea what you are doing. That creates an exponentially higher risk of you falling 100 feet off a rock face. Via ferratas allow you to experience much bigger walls and climbs with much lower risk due to the presence of a pre-installed steel cable you simply clip into. This doesn’t mean zero risk however. You are responsible for your actions and bad things can happen if you do something stupid like completely disconnect yourself from the safety cable and pick that moment to fall.

Back to Nelson Rocks, the guide gave a very informative safety lecture and tested us all a bit before letting us proceed very far into the course. The climbing equipment is all top notch. The course is ~80% ladder rungs (very steep areas) and ~20% free climbing/scrambling (not steep areas) however you remain tethered to the steel safety cable the entire time. The ladder rungs have a rough surface to provide better grip for hands and feet; another nice safety touch. You climb and then traverse one of the rock ‘fins’ and then work out to the edge, step through a crack to the other side, traverse that face, cross a 200-foot bridge to a parallel fin and then climb that to the top. A great mix of terrain, breathtaking views and a good workout. The whole thing ran about 5 hours including the approach hike so you get your money’s worth. At the end of the via ferrata when you finally unclip for good, you are high up on the ridge and we hiked up the last hundred yards to the summit for absolutely spectacular views before starting our hike down to the base.

Bottom line: A great day, great memories, great fun, a really great course and a great guide. Highly recommended and well worth going out of your way for if anywhere in the VA, western MD, southwest PA or northern WV area. I can’t recommend it highly enough. There is not another via ferrata within several hundred miles, so if you are anywhere in the area, it is definitely worth the drive. You definitely need to very comfortable and not scared of heights to do this. This is real rock climbing and you will be well over 100 above the tops of the trees staring straight down for parts of the course. You also traverse a 200 foot bridge which is way up above the trees. You also need to be in moderate physical shape as it is several hours of casual but steady physical activity and then a long (downhill) hike once you finish the course. While it is open to kids 13 and older, I think 14-15 would be better because of the height and safety considerations.

As an aside, I explored the cabins while there. They have several brand new cabins with porches, propane tank for a lantern, a new shower house and a nice picnic area. The second floor of the main building also is setup as apartments. They have clearly been investing in building the place up and making it nice and it really shows. This would be a GREAT place for a family, multi-family or girl scout/boy scout weekend.

One last note: Nelson Rocks is in Judy Gap, WV. Judy Gap is no more than an intersection. Make sure you gas up before you head there.

Blair N.

North Wales, PA


*This review can be found at:

Biodiversity in the North Fork Valley


Did you know, West Virginia is home to 34 (and counting) species of salamanders?! Salamanders are amphibians that can range anywhere from four inches to two feet in length. Amphibians are commonly confused for reptiles, but there are a few key differences that can help a novice eye distinguish between the two. The word amphibian is derived from a Greek word meaning double life. One of the biggest differences between amphibians and reptiles is the big life change all amphibians must go through called metamorphosis. Metamorphosis encompasses all of the stages of changing from an egg to an adult. Easily relatable examples are that of a toad, or butterfly (in the insect world). Reptiles on the other hand, do not go through metamorphosis. Upon being hatched reptiles are merely baby versions of their adult parents. Two other key differences between the two are lack of claws and scales. Amphibians have smooth skin. Many would even refer to it as slimy because for the most part, amphibians live in or near water and damp areas. One of the most interesting things about amphibian skin is the permeability, meaning they possess the ability to absorb foreign substances through their skin. This is how lungless salamanders breathe. The permeability of their skin causes salamanders to be extremely sensitive to pollutants in their environment. Because of this, salamanders are revered as being indicator species. An easy way to think about it – if salamanders are present the area is most likely of good health and pollutant free.

Here at Nelson Rocks Outdoor Center, it is not uncommon to stumble across amphibians and reptiles squirming about. Reptiles are found daily on the Via Ferrata. Be mindful of where to step, you never know what you might land on! In the surrounding areas the diversity of salamanders increases with the appropriate amount of suitable habitat. The largest salamander in North America is Cryptobranchus alleganiensis, or more commonly called the Hellbender. These elusive critters can measure in at over two feet in length. Better yet, they can be found a short drive down the road from Nelson Rocks Outdoor Center. Now please do not expect to easily find one of these guys crawling around on a trail. The hellbender lurks underneath table sized boulders in cold, pristine mountain streams. Don’t believe it? Well, I can tell you first hand they do exist locally. A group of colleagues and I assisted a research biologist in catching a prize specimen for his research on the effects climate change may have on hellbenders. After many hours of stumbling and fumbling our way through stream after stream in the pouring down rain, we epically overturned a massive rock, dove underneath and frantically grabbed blindly for something that could or could not exist. “I felt a foot” someone screamed! A couple feet away a net was raised and a 25 inch long prize specimen was lofted joyously into the air.

A variety of amphibians and reptiles can be found at Nelson Rocks Outdoor Center and throughout the surrounding area. If you are interested in finding your own Hellbender, but are not willing to put in all of the work, try visiting Hellbender Burritos in Davis, West Virginia for an abnormally large sized burrito. Or, go out and catch a smaller and easier to find, silly sally for yourself!

Valley Ridge Governors School Visits NROC

Nelson Rocks was pleased to welcome the Valley Ridge Governors School.  The students were working on a science based summer program that incorporated many local businesses. Before arriving at Nelson Rocks, the students spent an evening at The Green Bank Radio Telescope learning to operate the telescope and conduct research on their own. They then arrived at Nelson Rocks to try out the Via Ferrata and North Fork Valley Canopy Tour. On their tours, the students learned about the geologic history of the area, the history of the American Chestnut and invasive species that are found throughout the property. After their tours at Nelson Rocks they headed up to The Mountain Institute for some class time and then ventured back to Harrisonburg, Virginia to James Madison University to research the American Chestnut blight in a lab.

Best of Luck to the Valley Ridge Governors School on your research!

Tips for Via Ferrata Climbing

Here is a very informative article about safe climbing on a Via Ferrata. Sounds like they have visited us before!

Click here to check it out!

Camp Good Grief Visits NROC

Camp Good Grief’s mission is to help children who have experienced the death of a loved one. Through a combination of therapeutic and fun activities, children express their feelings and learn new ways to cope with grief. They took time away from a stay at The Mountain Institute on Spruce Knob to visit NROC and zip through the Canopy Tour for some fun. Thanks for coming, everyone!

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