Wednesday, May 9, 2007

Ranger Walks in Shenandoah National Park

Day two without Internet access – and we don’t even have a cell phone signal! Has the world stopped yet? It seems strange, but I am somehow surviving. I’m sure there’ll be a ton of email messages waiting whenever we can reconnect. That may be tomorrow when we get to our B&B in Lancaster County, PA, but maybe not. These posts may all have to wait until we’re back in Lunenburg.

The weather couldn’t have been better on this trip. Today it’s sunny and about 70 – perfect for being outdoors. We started with breakfast at the lodge. It is always so pleasant to sit in a park lodge’s cavernous dining room in front of a giant stone fireplace, gazing out at a beautiful view – this one being the green foothills and valley below and white puffy clouds in the bright blue sky overhead. The guests at park lodges always appear casual and relaxed. There is a feeling of camaraderie, sort of like being at summer camp, and nobody fusses about what they’re wearing or seems to be in a rush. We noticed that most of the people here at Big Meadow Lodge are couples our age or older, with a few younger couples sprinkled in. There are practically no children, although a couple on our morning ranger walk had a baby in a stroller and there was a very sweet little girl with our Meadow Walk group this afternoon.

I was intrigued by the title of this morning’s walk – The Story of the Limberlost. I read the book, Girl of the Limberlost, when I was probably 11 or 12 and something about that story captivated me so that I still remember parts of it vividly. I found out today that the Limberlost Trail here at Shenandoah is named after the wooded and marshy part of Indiana in which that book was set. On our walk, Ranger John gave us some of the history of the creation of this park and contrasted the types plants and trees that where found here then and now. The chestnuts that were originally here have all succumbed to a blight, and now the balsams have fallen to the adelphid, with the ones remaining cut down a few years ago to prevent this insect’s damage from spreading. Because of this, the area we walked through is pretty desolate with fallen trees, especially evident because the others are just beginning to leaf out. This morning’s walk was a compelling lesson about the devastating impact non-native species can have on native plants and trees.

This afternoon we walked through the Big Meadow. No one is sure exactly why this open meadow is here and has not become covered with shrubs and trees. Mara, our ranger, pointed out many tiny wildflowers that are just beginning to show themselves. We saw some deer grazing nearby – and also saw one almost hit by a car passing by too fast on Skyline Drive. Deer are abundant here and don’t seem at all intimidated by people or cars. We visited the site of the home of a family who once lived here. All that remains now is the stone foundation. Around 400 families who lived here when the area became a national park were all bought out by the federal government in the 1930s, many against their will. It’s not hard to imagine how sad it must have been for those families to have to leave this beautiful place and the lives they had made here.

Tomorrow we’ll head to north Lancaster County, stopping at the Luray Caverns on our way out of the Blue Ridge Mountains.

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