The Cacapon and Lost River is located in the Central Appalachian Mountains and flows into the Potomac River at its upper reaches near the town of Great Cacapon, WV. The third largest tributary of the Potomac, the Cacapon and Lost River watershed is a diverse and wondrous place, still dominated over large areas by functional and largely intact natural ecosystems. The watershed’s forests which make up approximately 85% of the watershed, are part of the great “lungs” of the East, providing oxygen, regulating the water cycle, sequestering greenhouse gases, and moderating climate. These aspects along with the variety of geology, landforms, and elevation in the watershed indicate a high level of habitat resiliency not found in many places today.
These traits create an environment with high levels of biodiversity, which is why the Cacapon has been identified as the most biologically diverse tributary of the Potomac River and one of the most biologically diverse of the entire Chesapeake Bay. The large blocks of relatively unbroken forestland remaining in the Cacapon and Lost River watershed are quite important for wildlife and plants. Among the benefits forests provide are their influence on stream health. Forests provide nutrients, help maintain water quality, and regulate water quantity and temperature. For example, significant shading of forested streams has helped brook trout, the Appalachian’s only native trout, survive in some of the Cacapon River watershed’s smaller streams. In fact, in addition to the native brook trout populations still thriving here, the Cacapon is home to more than 45 species of plants and animals that are targeted for protection in the West Virginia State Wildlife Action Plan and are classified as rare, threatened or endangered.
The headwaters region of the Cacapon River is known as the Lost River, receiving its descriptive name because of its abrupt termination into a one-mile underground course between the towns of Baker and Wardensville, WV. When the Lost River resurfaces, it is renamed the Cacapon River. The traditional Native American translation of the word “Cacapon” is medicine or healing waters. The largest tributary of the Cacapon, and equal in size to the Lost River, is the North River. Overall, the Lost/Cacapon River is 125 miles long and along with the North River, drains a total of 680 square miles (1,760 km²). The Lost/Cacapon River are important headwaters of the Chesapeake Bay. The River is contained solely within WV and traverses three counties, Hardy, Hampshire and Morgan.
In spite of its rural nature, the healthy future of the Lost/Cacapon River watershed is highly threatened. Corridor H a recently built four-lane highway bisecting the Lost River portion of the watershed brought with it increased development and sky-rocketing land prices – land prices so high that most local people can no long afford to buy watershed parcels. As a result, a full 50% of the landowners in the watershed are second-homeowners, many of whom came here for the quality of life the watershed offered, but cannot vote locally to support their wishes for the watershed’s future.