The preservation of our natural areas and habitats in Virginia is a noble and worthwhile endeavor. Since the late 1980s, much of this work has been accomplished through the Virginia Natural Area Preserves System, which was established to protect some of the most significant natural areas in the commonwealth.
Since its founding, the preserves system has adopted and now maintains a total of 65 natural areas around the state, totaling more than 58,000 acres of land. Here in Franklin County, we are blessed to have two of those 65 sites to enjoy: Grassy Hill and Bald Knob natural area preserves.
I woke this past Wednesday morning to a low-humidity day kissed with crystal blue skies. It immediately put me in the mood to do some landscape photography, and there are few places locally that are better suited for that than atop Bald Knob.
I trekked up the Bald Knob access trail early in the morning hoping to catch the early sun of the day. This beautiful autumn day was just after several days of steady rain, so I knew that the trail could be slick and muddied in some spots, and it was.
To complicate matters even more, the upper portions of the trail appeared to have not had any maintenance in some time. There were several trees down across the trail that had to be climbed over or crawled under. The final leg was so overgrown that I had to take the shortcut behind the water tower that the high school students have created over time.
This is a short, steep graded trail of packed-down dirt--or on this morning, just mud. I had to hold on to the fence the entire way up being it was so slippery, even in good boots.
After falling a couple of times on the way up, I was getting a tad irritated at the difficulties of what is normally a pleasant, simple trek. However, once I reached the open top of the Bald, my irritation quickly melted away. The expansive views intensified by the crisp, clean air of the day were simply magnificent.
I spent about an hour atop the Bald taking many wide-angled shots of the town and the valleys surrounding this rocky knob. As I was doing so, I couldn’t help but visualize the great potential of this nature preserve, and wondered if that potential was on its way to fruition.
It has been four years now since the Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation had purchased this 78-acre track of land to become a part of the Virginia Natural Area Preserve System. Four years may sound like a long time, but I am well aware of how difficult it can be to get monies allocated through the state government’s budget process, especially for environmental items.
Still, I was curious about the management plans for this delightful preserve, especially any future plans to enhance safe public access to it. I can’t help but compare its progress with its sister preserve Grassy Hill, and the beautifully maintained and fully accessible trail system found there.
I was fortunate this week to get some time with Ryan Klopf, the mountain region steward and regional supervisor, who oversees the planning for Bald Knob. In our conversation, Klopf assured me that they are currently and actively working on the management plans for this preserve.
Among some of the issues being dealt with are the lack of public access infrastructure such as a public parking area, and removing the invasive shrub privet from the preserve, as well as old fencing, which is harmful to wildlife.
Klopf went on to outline some of the future plans this way: “Two ideas we are working on for the management plan include reforestation of some of the old pastureland, and development of a hiking trail within those former pastures. This trail will include some sections of easy, accessible trail, and allow hikers to both enjoy views of Bald Knob, and get a close look at Piedmont fame-flower.”
Also mentioned was the willingness of DCR to work hand-in-hand with the community. Klopf noted, “We have not yet been approached by any of the local hiking groups offering to help with hiking trail maintenance. We have been assisted by local trail clubs in the past at other preserves, and would be happy to collaborate with similar clubs in the future, especially at Grassy Hill, where we have current trail maintenance needs.”
I, for one, would love the opportunity to help provide some periodic maintenance to these two treasures in our community. If any of my readers would be interested in talking about a hiking/maintenance club, drop me a line at email@example.com. Until then … keep it WILD.
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