Nature & Science
More Than Just History
Dave Frederick, NPS
Located in the coastal plain of Virginia, Colonial National Historical Park extends over 24 miles between two tidal rivers-the James and the York-that both flow into Chesapeake Bay. Mixed pine and hardwood forests populate more than half of the park's 9400 acres, and wetlands comprise another one-fourth. Lawns, fields, and mowed roadsides make up the rest.
At the time the park was established in 1930 much of the park's acreage was undergoing a succession from agriculture to woodland. Mature native trees were planted at specific points along the Parkway and its pull offs to provide a view. The current forests seen along the middle portion of the Colonial Parkway, the Yorktown Tour Road, and the Jamestown Tour Road have matured over the last 80 years.
Diverse groups of ecosystem lie within the historic roads, earthworks and archeological sites, making it the home to many species of plants and wildlife. Over 200 species of birds have been observed in its various environments. Swamps and marshes offer rich environments for wildlife and plants, and shorelines provide important nurseries for fish, crabs, turtles, and oysters. It has the second highest number of species listed as rare, threatened or endangered within the Virginia national parks.
Within the Yorktown Battlefield, the tour roads wind through hardwood swamps and open fields. The open fields are retained primarily as an interpretive opportunity to explain how the troops used the open fields as encampments during the time of the Siege. However, the fields also serve as important habitat for many species of animals and plants. The roads are ideal for walking, biking, and bird watching.
Between Yorktown and Jamestown Island, the Colonial Parkway travels through wooded upland ravines, over marshes, and along the wide beaches of the James River. The tour road on Jamestown Island follows the fingerlike wooded upland ridge and crosses expansive marshes. On a quiet five-mile loop, the car traveler will share the roadway with bicyclists, hikers, birdwatchers, and photographers following the seasons of plant blooms.
Did You Know?
During the Civil War, 632 Union dead were buried in the heart of the 1781 battlefield. In 1866 this cemetery became a national cemetery. Within a 50 mile radius, the remains of over 1500 Union soldiers were disinterred from their war burials and honorably placed in the Yorktown National Cemetery.