The Shenandoah National Park stretches through the Blue Ridge Mountains in northern
Virginia. The area was first set aside as a National Park in 1935 after many years of effort. One aim was to create a substantial national park similar
to those previously created in the West, but located nearer to the population centers
of the U.S. East Coast. The park idea was developed gradually before 1935, with some land acquisitions for a 100-foot right-of-way along the ridgeline for the creation of Skyline Drive. The scenic highway paralleled and displaced in palces the then-recent
Appalachian Trail, a 2144 mile long "super trail" running from
Georgia to Maine that was created in 1926. Some large areas were made available from willing large
landowners, including President Herbert Hoover whose fishing camp at Rapidan River
was included in the proposed park area, but other land owners fought park land condemnation. With the coming of the Great Depression,
the Civilian Conservation Corp (CCC) was established and eleven construction camps were established in the park to help create the 105-mile long Skyline Drive through the center of the park.
The park now encompasses about 200,000 acres of land, divided into three sections.
The northern part runs from Front Royal to Thornton Gap where a major highway
cuts through the ridge to connect the town of Luray with the towns east of the park.
The central section spans from Thornton Gap down to Swift Run Gap where another
road crosses through the park. Finally the southern section runs to
Rockfish Gap where the Interstate Highway 66 runs out of Charlottesville and into the
hills of West Virginia. South of Rockfish Gap, Skyline Drive meets the Blue Ridge
Parkway, a road that continues along the ridgeline of this first range of the
Appalachian Mountains. Beyond the park’s southern boundary, the land is no
longer consistently public (save for the right-of-way corridors for the Appalachian
National Scenic Trail and the Blue Ridge Parkway) until reaching the Smoky Mountain National Park, which straddles
the border of North Carolina and Tennesse.
The land in the park is of mixed type, reflecting its history and incorporation
into the park. Roughly forty percent is maintained as wilderness areas with no
road access or facilities; these are areas designated in the Wilderness Act as
places "retaining its primeval character". Visitors are required to
practice Leave-No-Trace ethics, and while camping and hiking are permitted in Wilderness
areaa, they are subject to limits to minimize the impact of human presence.
All parts of the park maintain some archaeological remains from over
two hundred years of European settlement in the park area prior to its
national park declaration. This includes the foundations of abandoned homes of
some mountain settlers who were forced to relocate when the park was created.
In some places, hikers can stroll from forest into an abandoned apple orchard
and know they are treading in former farmland. The area was also used for some
ten thousand years prior as hunting and fishing grounds with some settlements
by native American populations, and traces of their presence can still be found
in the park as well.
This satellite image of the park reflects this heritage. The park is a skinny long shape running roughly
northeast to southwest from Front Royal to Waynesboro at Rockfish Gap (just off
the edge of this image) roughly centered on the main ridgeline on which Skyline
Drive runs. It is much wider than the mere 100-foot right-of-way, but retains the shape defined somewhat by the route of Skyline Drive.
Numerous scenic-view turnoff spots on the road, built by the CCC, look down on the Shenandoah Valley to the west and across to Massanutten Mountain, or else eastward towards Washington, D.C. and Richmond, Virginia.
It is said that in the early years of the park, on a clear day it was possible
to see the Washington Monument some one hundred or so miles away. In modern times,
atmospheric smog and haze have robbed these views of some of their majestic breadth.
Stands of trees in the park remain from when boreal forests retreated southward
along the Appalachian ridgeline during the last major ice age, and now are
gradually moving northward with global warming. Thus there are stands of
trees more usually associated with southern Canada, such as stately hemlocks and balsam firs.
The park appears as a deep rich green of forest
contrasting with the lighter farmland in the valleys on either side, and the
grey concrete of roads and city buildings. Much of the farmland still appears
fallow in this late spring image as summer crops have not yet fully grown in.
This image was acquired by
Enhanced Thematic Mapper plus (ETM+) sensor on May 24, 2002. This natural
color composite image was created using the red, green, and blue wavelengths
(ETM+ bands 3, 2, & 1).
Established in 1975, the park saw fur traders nearly two centuries earlier, and it supported human inhabitants thousands of years before that. Today, almost a third of the park is water, and travel through the park is usually by boat.