Doug Wood, a speaker at the park's annual Winter Wonder Weekend, noted the specimen, the honey locust or thorny locust, during a group hike along the North Bend Rail Trail, where he called attention to its remarkable history.
"This isn't a common species in West Virginia, and we're still unsure how they made it into the region," Wood said of the tree, which is far more common in the lower Mississippi.
"Some thought the buffalo might have carried it here, but we've discovered that the trees were here long before the buffalo arrived, so we think that mastodon might have carried them into the region instead."
Far less common than the black locust, which may be identified by its large thorns spaced here and there along the trunk, the honey locust features clusters of many thorns several inches long.
Distantly related to elephants, herds of mastodons inhabited North America forests until their extinction 10,000 to 11,000 years ago, browsing and grazing much like elephants today.
Bison typically ranged across prairies and plains in open or semiopen grasslands but did not enter the mountainous areas in West Virginia until the 1700s after Native Americans cleared and then left open grasslands that permitted the animals to extend their range.
The honey locust Wood pointed out is located along the North Bend Rail Trail along Bonds Creek some 200 feet west of the entrance to Tunnel 13 and the North Bend State Park access trail.
Wood was one of several speakers who presented programs at the annual Winter Wonder Weekend at the state park, a family weekend getaway at the park's lodge that provides a panoply of events for children, adults, and older adults.
For more information on the weekend and the state park, contact North Bend State Park.
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