Rock Outcrops at Shenandoah National Park
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.
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.
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.
Rock Outcrop Management Plan
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.
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.
How You Can Help
You can help protect fragile rock outcrop ecosystems by doing the following: