Angela and I spent last week in and around Shenandoah National Park, hiking to prepare for tomorrow’s Rachel Carson Trail Challenge. We attempted the full challenge a few years ago, which is to hike over 34 miles in a single day. Unfortunately, we ran out of time at the last checkpoint before the finish. Last year we did a family hike with the little one, and this year we have worked back up to the half challenge, which is 18 or so miles. It’s still a lot of walking, which is why we did so much hiking last week. I’ll be peppering this post with some panoramas that I took, you’ll be able to click on them for a larger image, and there will be a link in the caption that will take you to information about that hike. This would be, I guess, in case you wanted to re-create the same vacation I just had. Maybe you’re my as-yet-unborn daughter, I’m dead now, and this is part of your grieving process. Or maybe you’re just a creep. Who knows.Yosemite National Park was established in 1890, and it’s success immediately made the east coast jealous. The federal government began looking for suitable park lands after 1900, but in true federal government style, moved slowly on it until the mid-1920s. Under the Coolidge administration the Southern Appalachian National Park Committee was established. They were tasked with finding an area that could be a made into a park somewhere in the Appalachians, a mountain range that runs from Georgia to Maine. That’s a lot of ground for a 5-person committee to cover, so they made a questionnaire and invited local populations to complete it. The questionnaire asked basic things such as how big the proposed park could be, what kinds of natural flora and fauna it would boast, and whether or not there was currently any development on the proposed lands. George Freeman Pollock owned a resort in the Blue Ridge Mountains and, coincidentally, was looking for ways to get noticed. He filled out the questionnaire and maybe kinda sorta fudged a few things. He answered the question about whether or not there were any improvements such as towns or farms with a flat “No”. This turned out to not be entirely true. There were some 500 homes on the 200,000 acres that would become the park, and most of the residents were subsistence farmers or small business owners. Nevertheless, Pollock’s petition would eventually be successful, buoyed in part by a publicity campaign by the otherwise reclusive Herbert Hoover. Over the next few decades these residents would have their homes and property condemned and bought out from under them by the State of the Virginia, which would in turn give the land over to the federal government in order to establish Shenandoah National Park. A legal challenge by the residents would reach an unsympathetic Supreme Court, sealing the residents’ fate. Most would be relocated as Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s (FDR’s) Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) began work on the park. A precious few would be able to live out their days in their mountain homes. Those homes are now almost entirely gone, but a few graves still remain.
The timing of the Supreme Court ruling couldn’t have been better for FDR and his CCC. He needed a proving ground to show that the government could provide good jobs while also doing good for the public. In the years leading up to World War II, young men designed and built a truly American form of National Park. The spine of the park would be, what else, a highway; 105 miles of scenic drive are punctuated by breathtaking overlooks, like this one at Signal Knob.
The CCC also acted as naturalists, working to replant disturbed areas and remove invasive species. Some efforts were unsuccessful, like the attempts to remove the Tree of Heaven from the park. Some, over time, were more so. Pollock’s original questionnaire stated that there were no deer in these mountains anymore but speculated that they might one day thrive there again, citing “wonderful shelter and food for them if introduced and properly protected.” In my experience (this being my second time through the park), deer have been the most commonly seen mammal.
This time, though, we were lucky enough to see a little bear.
Today, the park is crisscrossed by over 500 miles of trail. 101 miles of the 2,200 mile Appalachian Trail run through the park, and most of the trails in the park use the AT as a launching point. We hiked about 36 miles worth over 5 days there, hiking over mountaintops, into valleys to see waterfalls, under rocks to inspect their geology, and over slopes blooming with Mountain Laurel.
One of the trails we hiked led to Stony Man Summit, so named because the summit looks like a stony man.The rocky portion at the top is the brow, followed by a tree-covered nose, rocky nostrils and a beard of trees. In case you need some help visualizing …
I even spent some time in an auto museum, where I learned that people used to think that the most effective pattern for a non skid tire were the actual words “Non Skid”.
We cooked dinner nearly every night, from steaks to tacos to chow mien. It was all very relaxing, helped in no small part by a bunch of wine.
Virginia has a pretty happenin’ wine scene, a legacy of Thomas Jefferson. Speaking of, I’ve got another post on this coming up talking about my trip to Monticello, so look out for that. And you’re probably sick of hearing about the podcast so I won’t do another ICYMI, but there’s new stuff there too. Wish me luck tomorrow.