THE SHENANDOAH NATIONAL PARK
Special Characteristic: Heart of Blue Ridge Mountains; Interesting Panoramic Views; Profusion of Trees and Flowering Plants, Including Springtime Display of Azalea; Spectacular Skyline Drive
SHENANDOAHsometimes translated "Daughter of the Stars"is the appropriate name applied to our newest national park, situated in the heart of Virginia's famous Blue Ridge Mountains. Its majestic, tree-covered peaks are the highest in the State; and in them the eastern mountain ridge, for the first time south of Vermont, reaches an elevation of more than 4,000 feet above the sea. Much of the time these peaks are softened by a faint blue haze that lends an air of mystery and romance.
From the highway that follows closely the crest of the ridge, interesting panoramas spread out in every direction. As the ridge twists sinuously back and forth, the highest peaks constantly appear in viewin front, on one side, or on the other. All are magnificently shaped and forested with hardwoods. Their names are reminiscent of the mood of the pioneers who first knew the region, when to enter it was as much of an adventure as the conquest of the West.
Practically all of the park lies at least 2,000 feet above sea level. Hawksbill, highest mountain in the park, is at an elevation of 4,049 feet. Stony Man Mountain is a close second, 4,010 feet high. Old Rag, not quite so high, is the most picturesque in the park, in name and appearance.
Off in the distance other mist-enshrouded mountains appear, retreating ridge after ridge into the distance. Below lie historic valleys, their rectangles in varying shades of green in summer marking fertile fields, and with towns dotted here and there through their length.
The Shenandoah National Park embraces 80 miles of the Blue Ridge and is long and narrow, in some places including only the top of the ridge. Through its length runs the spectacular Skyline Drive, which in the south connects with the Blue Ridge Parkway. From this highway trails lead off into the mountain wilderness.
Of particular interest is the Shenandoah's portion of the Appalachian Trailthat footpath that extends from Maine to Georgia, a distance of more than 2,000 miles, and is believed to be the longest in the world today.
In the park the Appalachian Trail lures the hiker to mountain peaks, along sheer cliffs, through spectacular forest growth, into unexpected canyons, out again into sunny clearingsunexpected, ever-changing, but filled with solitude and peace.
In addition to the magnificent forests that clothe Shenandoah's peaks, there is a profusion of mountain laurel, plum azalea, hawthorne, dogwood, and other flowering shrubs and plants that makes springtime in the Blue Ridge something to dream about for many a long day; and the autumn coloring of its deciduous trees furnishes a color display of unsurpassed beauty and vividness. In its forests may be heard and seen many of the best loved and most familiar of America's songbirds.
Deer, once a familiar sight in the Shenandoah region, disappeared perhaps half a century ago. Fifteen of these animals, formerly on the Mount Vernon estate near Washington, were moved to the area early in 1934, in an effort to reestablish a herd in one of their old ancestral ranges. In a few years it is hoped that visitors on the park trails, and even on the highway, may catch glimpses of deer grazing on the mountain slopes as was possible in our grandfathers' day.
Once these mountains were the hunting ground of Indians, perhaps a retreat for them when hard pressed by enemy tribes. Then, more than two centuries ago, came the first of the pioneers, following Indian and game trails into and across the Blue Ridge. A Frenchman, Louis Michelle, is the first recorded white man to visit the Shenandoah Valley, in 1707. That he penetrated the mountain wilderness of the park area, we have no record. But following him in 1716 came Governor Spotswood of Virginia and his Knights of the Golden Horseshoe, while surveying the vast unknown domain of his State; and he is known to have penetrated the Blue Ridge, crossing at Swift Run Gap, in the present park. George Washington passed over the terrain, during the French and Indian wars. Across it also passed many a hardy caravan, en route to the unknown West on the other side of the mountains. On both sides of the Blue Ridge are the battlefields of the Civil War and across its gaps swiftly moved the troops of the Confederacy.
Other history there is also in the region, less spectacular, but perhaps equally dramatic in the story of the human race. Clearings were made high up on the slopes of the Blue Ridge, even at times on its crest; cabins were built in its hollows, seemingly with deliberate intent of concealment. Long ago these clearings and cabins were made, each perhaps by some pioneer who left the westward cavalcade or wandered in alone, made himself a home, shut away from the outside world. For generations their descendants have led a primitive life in the mountain fastnesses, subsisting largely on the native plant and animal life. It is only with the coming of the automobile, with the building of the highway in the Shenandoah Park area, that the descendants of these early settlers have been freed of their isolation and discovered the world beyond.
The Shenandoah National Park was finally established December 26, 1935, some 10 years after initiation of the project by act of Congress. Great credit is due the State and people of Virginia for their magnificent work in acquiring the lands for the park, in accordance with the mandate of Congress, and administering them until such time as the entire park area could be turned over to the Federal Government as a great national playground. So widespread was the interest in the creation of the park that conservationists and nature lovers in other States contributed to the funds for land purchase.
As a recreation area for the many millions of people living in the East, the Shenandoah National Park reaches its highest destiny, after more than two hundred years of romantic history.