T.M. Gathright Wildlife Management Area, Bath County, Virginia

About Gathright Wildlife Management Area

The Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries manages this area at the north end of Lake Moomaw, a U.S. Army Corps of Engineers flood control project in western Virginia. The WMA is in Bath County and borders West Virginia to the west. Most of Gathright’s 13,428 acres are mountainous and forested, with oaks and hickories the main tree species. Deer, wild turkeys, squirrels, and ruffed grouse live on the WMA, as do many forest-interior songbirds.

About 70 acres of low-lying old fields are in the early stages of a management effort to improve them for woodcock, golden-winged warblers, cottontail rabbits, and other wildlife – this in a region where young-forest habitat is scarce.

Improving the Land for Woodcock

Around the manager’s residence, at the narrow northern tip of the lake, 25 acres of old fields have grown up with alien and native shrubs including multiflora rose, autumn olive, St. Johnswort, blackberry, viburnum, and hawthorn.


Most of Gathright WMA is mountainous and forested.

In 2009, wildlife technicians began opening up a series of lanes by shear-dozing off the old, overmature shrubs in 16-foot strips (the width of two bulldozer blades), then skipping four blade widths and dozing another lane. In two to three years, new strips will be cut next to the first ones, and in another several years, the final strips will be cut.

Managers will create woodcock feeding and brood-rearing habitat by increasing the number of shrub stems per acre; using chainsaws to cut away taller trees scattered through the old fields; and breaking up dense sod that is keeping desirable shrubs from sprouting in some areas.

In the future, controlled burns may be used to free areas that are becoming choked with grass.

Photo of woodcock

Woodcock habitat is scarce in western Virginia.

A second management focus is the Mill Creek drainage about 2 miles west of the supervisor’s residence and across the lake. Here, a series of small fields – including three fields in Clay Lick Hollow – will have their shrubby edges expanded, making the field borders of alder and buttonbush more useful to woodcock for feeding and rearing broods. Managers will disk sodbound cool-season grasses; use herbicides as necessary; lay out commercial logging and firewood cuts; and plant native shrubs (such as indigobush, silky dogwood, and alder) to promote shrub and young-forest growth.

Management efforts will also focus on the top of Bolar Mountain, a relatively flat, broad ridge between the supervisor’s residence and the Mill Creek drainage. On Bolar Mountain, mowing and brush-hogging open areas, as well as expanding logging operations, will create more woodcock roosting and feeding habitat Logging will increase breeding habitats for golden-winged warblers.

Gathright WMA supports one of the larger breeding colonies of golden-winged warblers in Virginia. Golden-wings will use habitats created and enhanced for woodcock.

Many other birds benefit from openings in the forest. In spring 2010, an ornithologist with the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries observed a large number of cerulean warblers using the area near the manager's residence where strips had been bulldozed in overmature shrubs. The cerulean warbler is a Neotropical migrant that commonly breeds in mature hardwoods in eastern North America; its numbers have declined in recent years, and it is considered a species of special concern, both federally and in Virginia. Apparently the restored woodcock habitat was providing food or cover attractive to cerulean warblers in springtime.

Funding and Partners

Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries, U.S. Forest Service, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, U.S. Geological Survey, National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, Northeast Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies, Wildlife Management Institute.

How to Visit

Gathright WMA is about 7 miles west of Warm Springs and 15 miles north of Covington. Visitors can reach the area via VA Route 39 west of Warm Springs and VA Route 600 south to the WMA. For more information and a map, see http://www.dgif.virginia.gov/wmas/detail.asp?pid=22