Rock Outcrops at Shenandoah National Park

Lichen-covered quartzite at Blackrock
Lichen-covered quartzite at Blackrock (South District)

Gary Fleming/ VA DCR DNH

The rock outcrops of Shenandoah National Park are some of the largest in the region and contain many significant vegetation communities and rare plant and animal populations. Rock outcrops are defined as visible exposures of bedrock or other geologic formations at the surface of the Earth. Rock outcrops take many different forms within the Park, ranging from the massive granite boulders of Old Rag Mountain, to the sheer cliffs of Little Stony Man, and the jumbled boulder fields of Blackrock. Many of the Park's outcrops are popular visitor destinations due to the dramatic scenery and open vistas they provide.
 
Rock outcrops represent a mere 2% of the Park's total area, but they are home to numerous rare plants and animals, many of which are found only in rock outcrop environments. Twenty-one state rare plant species are known to exist on Park outcrops, including plants such as mountain sandwort (Minuartia groenlandica), Appalachian fir clubmoss (Huperzia appalachiana), and three-toothed cinquefoil (Sibbaldia tridentata). Limited surveys of lichens on Park rock outcrops have documented 90 species, one of which was new to North America.
 
Mountain sandwort, Appalachian fir clubmoss, Three-toothed cinquefoil
Mountain sandwort, Appalachian fir clubmoss, Three-toothed cinquefoil

NPS

 
High Elevation Greenstone Barren at Hawksbill
High elevation Greenstone Barren at Hawksbill

Gary Fleming / VA DCR DNH

Nine globally rare plant communities occur at the Park's outcrops. Two of these communities, the High-Elevation Greenstone Barren and the Central Appalachian Mafic Boulderfield, are found nowhere else in the world. The High-Elevation Greenstone Barren plant community at Hawksbill and Stony Man is extremely rare, with all known occurrences collectively covering less than 10 acres. Other rock outcrop plant communities are also very rare and have limited distributions. One example of this is the High-Elevation Outcrop Barren from Bearfence Mountain and Loft Mountain, where the Park harbors over half of the known occurrences of the community.
 
Peregrine falcon
Peregrine Falcon

NPS

The presence of the federally endangered Shenandoah salamander (Plethododon shenandoah) and the state threatened Peregrine falcon (Falco peregrinus) has been confirmed at several rock outcrop sites within the Park. Zoological inventory work also discovered 10 new rare animal populations, including the state rare small footed bat (Myotis lebii). Surveys also found over 700 species of invertebrates at rock outcrops, seven of which are rare in the state of Virginia.
 
Comparison on minor and severe human impacts on the ground by Little Stony Man
Comparison of minor and severe impacts of human use on vegetation and soils at Little Stony Man.

Gary Fleming / VA DCR DNH

Rock Outcrop Management Plan

Intense use of these areas by hiking, climbing and camping enthusiasts has led to severe degradation of vegetation and soils at some cliff sites, including impacts to rare species and communities. An assessment of human use and impact at fifty of the Park's outcrops found that 40% of sites exhibited moderate to severe human impacts in the form of social trails, campsites, rock graffiti, trash, and soil and vegetation damage. The majority of impacts to rock outcrop natural resources were from day use activities including hiking and vista viewing. However, two sites, Little Stony Man and Old Rag Mountain, were shown to have significant rock climbing use, and areas of impact caused by rock climbing activities.

 

In an effort to prevent further degradation of important outcrop ecosystems, the Park is currently implementing the Rock Outcrop Management Plan (ROMP). The plan calls for backcountry camping closures at six sites and complete closures at three locations (total of ~20 acres, or 0.01% of the total Park area). Implementation of these closures was not taken lightly by Park management. It was recognized that these sites are very popular with visitors, but the Park must honor the National Park Service Organic Act (1916), which mandates the protection of natural objects so that they will be "unimpaired for the enjoyment of future generations." The plan was developed with significant input from the public with the goal to protect the sensitive natural resources on rock outcrops and cliffs while still providing opportunities for visitor enjoyment of these popular recreational areas.

ROMP CLOSURES
Site Closure
Mount Marshall Camping is prohibited above 3,200'
Overall Run Camping is prohibited along a half mile stretch of Tuscarora - Overall Run Trail. Closure includes both sides of Overall Run.
Mary's Rock Camping is prohibited above 3,400'
Little Stony Man Camping is not permitted in the vicinity of Little Stony Man cliffs because of existing backcountry camping regulations (no camping within 0.25 mile of Skyline Drive). This includes the area just north of the Passamaquoddy Trail vista at the bottom of Little Stony Man Cliffs. Areas immediately to the north and south of the primary rock climbing area are closed to all public use.
Hawksbill Camping is prohibited above 3,200'. The cliffs to the west of the Byrd's Nest at the summit are closed to all public use, as is the north slope of Hawksbill below the viewing platform at the summit (this closure extends downslope across the Appalachian Trail, but the trail corridor remains open to the public).
Old Rag Camping is prohibited above 2,800'. Please be aware that camping is not permitted in the vicinity of the Byrd's Nest, which is located at 2,900'. The "west summit" of Old Rag is closed to all public use.
This is the first phase of the ROMP implementation. Outcrop communities will be monitored in future years to determine the effectiveness of the closures and the health of rock outcrop ecosystems. Additional restrictions may be put in place in the future if deemed necessary.
 
Park ranger removing trash collected on Old Rag; carrying a backpack full of plastic bottles.
A park ranger removing trash collected on Old Rag.

NPS

How You Can Help

You can help protect fragile rock outcrop ecosystems by doing the following:

  • Respect posted closure signs and barriers at ROMP sites.
  • Use only existing trails at rock outcrops. Do not create new informal social trails.
  • Resist the temptation to bushwhack or go off-trail at outcrop sites.
  • Watch your footing to avoid trampling of small plants and lichens.
  • Pack out all of your trash and keep a firm grip on your lunch. Sudden winds on exposed outcrops can result in accidental littering.
  • Climbers: Follow the Park's climbing guidelines.
 

Last updated: November 1, 2016

Contact the Park

Mailing Address:

Shenandoah National Park
3655 U.S. Highway 211 East

Luray, VA 22835

Phone:

(540) 999-3500

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