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Saturday, July 22, 2006

Visit Big Meadows, in the Shenandoah National Park

Image: Visitors Enjoying a Field Seminar in Big Meadows

Big Meadows is located on the Skyline Drive at Milepost 51 in the Shenandoah National Park in Madison County, Virginia. The Park's Harry F. Byrd Visitor Center is located there, as is a lodge, camp store, and camping area.

Rapidan Camp, the restored historic (circa 1931) presidential fishing retreat of Herbert Hoover on the Rapidan River is nearby. It is accessed by a 4.1-mile round-trip hike on Mill Prong Trail, which begins on the Skyline Drive at Milam Gap (Mile 52.8). The National Park Service also offers guided van trips that leave from the Byrd Center at Big Meadows.

In 1935, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt dedicated the new park and the Skyline Drive at a ceremony at Big Meadows.

Image left: The Brown House at Rapidan Camp. Hidden in the trees is the original Brown House, which was frequented by President Hoover. Public domain.

Archaeological work has uncovered evidence of prehistoric periods of human habitation as long ago as 2000 B.C. Big Meadows was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1985.
Just before dusk, deer appear from the surrounding woods in the meadow to browse while park visitors wander the meadows and watch the nearly tame deer. In the open meadow there thrive some 270 species of plants, including several varieties of ferns and the park's largest compilation of wildflowers. Among the flower varieties are northern evening primrose (Oenothera biennis), Turk's cap lily (Lilium superbum), beardtongue (Penstemon), and stiff gentian (Gentiana quinquefolia) with its lovely lilac-blue open petals. The gentian grows about 1 to 2 feet tall and has a whorl of leaves just below the flower cluster.

Scientists say that Big Meadows was once much bigger—extending 1.5 miles north and south of its present 150 acres. But they can only speculate about its reason for the meadows existence. Possibly Indians set fire to the land regularly to keep it clear for hunting and growing. The park service now burns and mows the land to preserve its open character for nesting birds, deer, and other wildlife and for its historical significance since the meadow has existed for several hundred years.

Big Meadows campground has 227 sites and is the only campground in the Shenandoah National Park where you can make reservations, either at the gate or by calling (800) 365-CAMP and using SHEN as four-letter designator when asked. There are three other campgrounds in the Park and all of the campgrounds have spacious, shaded sites which operate from May through October. These campgrounds include Mathews Arm (mile 22.2, 186 sites), Lewis Mountain (mile 57.5, 32 sites), and Loft Mountain (mile 79.5, 221 sites). A fee is charged. Handicapped-accessible sites are available at each campground.

There are also motel-type units and rustic cabins available from early April through November at Skyland (mile 41.7) and Big Meadows (mile 51.2). A few rental housekeeping cabins are available from early May to late October at Lewis Mountain (mile 57.5). Make reservations well in advance.

Reservations or Information: ARAMARK Virginia Sky-line Company, Inc., PO Box 727, Luray, VA 22835. Phone (800) 999-4714.

Images: from the National Park Service


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