High atop Peters Mountain in Monroe County is where you will find Hanging Rock Raptor Observatory.
The observatory was originally an old fire tower. Built in 1956, it functioned as such until 1972, when planes became a
better means of spotting fires. The tower and surrounding land were acquired by the US Forest Service in 1983. At that time, the tower was incorporated into the Jefferson National Forest.
Today the Hanging Rock Observatory is one of the best spots in the state to view migrating hawks, eagles, falcons, and osprey. The fact that the observation tower is still in use is thanks to the work and dedication of many groups, organizations, and individuals. Without them Hanging Rock may have not come to exist in its present day form.
The earliest records from the Hanging Rock site date back to 1952. Professors from Marshall University and Concord College annually led students to this area to perform raptor counts. Members of the Handlan Chapter, Brooks Bird Club, and other Monroe County citizens took over maintenance and upkeep after it was abandoned as a fire tower in 1972.
By 1984 the tower was in disrepair and on the verge of being unusable. With help from a grant from the West Virginia Non-Game Wildlife Fund, work was completed to refurbish the tower. A set of steps was built to help access the tower more easily.
Sadly, the tower was burned by vandals in 1996, not long after the Forest Service had re-decked the observatory. The Forest Service responded to pleas from the public and again, with help from many of the volunteers who took care of the old tower, rebuilt the observatory. It was dedicated on June 10, 1997.
Today at the Tower
The Hanging Rock Raptor Observatory is just about as ‘rustic’ today as it was 60 years ago. There is no electricity or
running water at the site. The only bathroom is an outhouse. The hike to access the tower is close to a mile and can take up to 40 minutes depending on your fitness level. It is in close proximity to the Allegheny Trail; many visitors are nature lovers willing to make the trek.
Most of the heavy birding activity takes place during the fall migration, which runs from August through November. September is when the heaviest frequency of species will be observed. There are 15 species of raptors associated with the observation area, with records dating back to 1952.
If you are planning to visit Hanging Rock there are a few things you may want to consider bringing with you:
• Water and food
• Sunscreen, sunglasses, hat
• Extra clothing
• Bird Book
Remember, the Hanging Rock Raptor Observatory is located at over 3,800 feet in elevation. This means that the weather and temperature will be different than at lower elevations. Make sure you are prepared for changing conditions.
As we look forward to fall, planning a trip to the Hanging Rock Raptor Observatory may be just the right way to spend a cool autumn day.
Have you been to Hanging Rock Raptor Observatory? Tell us all about it in the comments.