Sunday, September 13, 2015

State Arboretum of Virginia (Blog Hike #546)

Trail: Native Plant Trail
Hike Location: State Arboretum of Virginia
Geographic Location: southeast of Winchester, VA
Length: 1 mile
Difficulty: 1/10 (Easy)
Last Hiked: August 2015
Overview: A mostly flat hike featuring plants native to Virginia.
Arboretum Information:

Directions to the trailhead: In northern Virginia, take I-81 to US 50 (exit 313).  Exit and go east on US 50.  Drive US 50 east 8.8 miles to the signed arboretum entrance on the right.  Turn right to enter the arboretum, and park in the gravel visitor’s parking lot on the right in 0.5 miles at the start of the arboretum’s gravel loop road.

The hike: Owned and operated by the University of Virginia (UVA), the State Arboretum of Virginia features a collection of over 5500 trees and shrubs.  The arboretum is actually part of the 700 acre Blandy Experimental Farm, which UVA manages for recreation, education, and research.  The farm has given many graduate and undergraduate students in UVA’s agriculture programs valuable hands-on training in their fields.
            For visitors, the arboretum’s main attraction is a 2 mile gravel loop drive that features parking areas at most of the arboretum’s major sites.  The arboretum also offers several walking trail loops, but most of the walking loops use parts of the gravel roads, thus putting hikers in the path of vehicles.  One exception is the Native Plant Trail described here.  As its name suggests, the Native Plant Trail explores the area of the arboretum devoted to plants that are native to Virginia.  Though short, the Native Plant Trail provides a quiet, educational hike near the arboretum’s center, and it is my favorite trail at the arboretum.
Walking out of the parking area
            The Native Plant Trail does not start at the parking area, so a short walk is required to access the trail of interest.  Start at the information kiosk at the right (west) side of the parking area.  Walk south along the shrub-lined gravel path toward the headquarters building, an historic white building with orange roof called The Quarters.  Once a slave quarters for the plantation that occupied these grounds, today The Quarters contains administrative offices, a gift shop, and dormitory-style accommodations that are often used by arboretum researchers.
Native Plant Trail trailhead
            Walk through The Quarters’ breezeway, then angle left to head slightly downhill through a mowed grass area for the signed Native Plant Trail trailhead.  The cinder path heads east through a small cluster of trees.  This area features plants native to Virginia’s forests, and some signs help you identify plants of interest.
            At 0.2 miles, you reach a trail intersection at the east end of the woods that forms the loop portion of the Native Plant Trail.  For no particular reason, I chose to continue straight and use the trail going right as my return route, thus hiking the loop clockwise.  The cinder trail continues east as it heads into a meadow area that features plants native to Virginia’s prairies.  Many of these plants were in bloom when I hiked here on a seasonally cool mid-August morning, and a family of deer welcomed me to the prairie.
Walking through the meadow
            0.45 miles into the hike, the trail curves right as it crosses a boardwalk over a small wet area, which contains many grasses and shrubs native to Virginia’s wetlands.  After climbing slightly, you reach the wooden Overlook Pavilion.  A ramp leads up to the small covered structure that provided me shelter during a light rain shower.  The pavilion also overlooks a small pond that contained some turtles and birds on my visit.
Turtles and bird in pond
            Continuing around the loop, you next pass some limestone rock outcrops that remind you how close to the surface the northern Virginia bedrock lies.  Now heading west, the native meadow area lies to the right, and a mowed grass area lies to the left.  A final right curve onto what appears to be an old road leads you to the close of the loop.  Retrace your steps to The Quarters and the parking area to complete the hike, or explore other parts of the arboretum.  The arboretum has a nice conifer collection, and Dogwood Lane makes for a scenic stroll in the spring when the dogwoods lining the trail bloom.  Either before or after your hike, be sure to drive the Loop Road for a tour of some of the arboretum’s research areas.

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