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Virginia's Great Outdoors Is Showcased at Shenandoah National Park and in the Virginia State Parks
2011 marks milestones for both
When the term “the Great Outdoors” was coined it must have been with Virginia in mind. The Commonwealth’s inspiring landscape, including coastal beaches, rolling hills, majestic mountains and rivers and streams, is a haven for families looking to relax and reconnect in the beauty of nature. Hikers, paddlers, swimmers, stargazers, geo-cachers and nature lovers of all ages come to Virginia to completely connect on a memorable vacation. 2011 has two major milestones that will have outdoor enthusiasts eager to plan a trip.
This year in Virginia it’s what’s outside that counts as two of its most treasured assets, Shenandoah National Park and the Virginia State Parks system, each celebrate 75th anniversaries. Special programs and events and free admission days highlight activities perfect for families who want to shake off the stresses of everyday life and share the enjoyment of nature together.
When he dedicated Shenandoah National Park in 1936, President Franklin D. Roosevelt spoke for his and future generations when he said that visitors would find an experience “good for their bodies and good for their souls.” Today the same inspiration is present more than ever as the park enables its guests to be in the midst of nature and to immerse themselves in the freshness of the air and the beauty that surrounds them.
More than 500 miles of hiking trails (all but a few miles of which are pet-friendly) wind through nearly 200,000 acres of protected land, traversing woodlands and meadows and offering breathtaking views as well as encounters with wildlife and natural vegetation. Good options for family lodging, from hotel rooms to cabins or camping, abound along with restaurants and service areas.
The most recognizable feature of Shenandoah National Park is the two-lane road that runs its length. Skyline Drive meanders 105 miles from end to end and features 75 overlooks, many with expansive views of the Shenandoah Valley or Piedmont. Parking areas give quick access to trails leading to waterfalls or nature areas.
The National Park Service offers a bounty of ranger-led programs for adults and children. The excellent Junior Ranger program brings kids, parents and park rangers together for adventure hikes exploring wildlife, habitats, native plants and insects. Communities neighboring the park are hosting special events throughout the year. It’s just one of the ways for families to share an unforgettable experience in a special place.
Virginia’s State Parks also had their beginnings in 1936. From an original six parks the system has now grown to 34 parks found in nearly every corner of Virginia and have been honored as the best state parks in America by organizations such as the National Sporting Goods Association.
The state parks encompass a variety of environments from sand beaches of the Atlantic to the high mountains of far western Virginia, from Civil War battlefields to railroad beds-tuned bike trails and from bald eagle sanctuaries to an abandoned gold mine. Though each park offers its own special experience each is maintained in keeping with the quality expected of America’s best state parks.
One of the first features of Virginia State Parks was rustic overnight cabins built by the Civilian Conservation Corps. All but one of the original cabins remain in use, having been upgraded with modern facilities, and are among the most requested cabins in the park system. Now more than 260 climate controlled, fully furnished cabins are in the parks and include kitchen equipment, bedding and towels. Most have fireplaces. Ten parks have large family cabins with multiple bedrooms and baths, perfect for reunions.
But being outdoors is what makes the Virginia’s State Park experience superior. Many parks have beautiful lakes with swimming areas, canoe and boat rentals and excellent fishing. Family hiking trails run along lakeshores and through woodlots and meadows providing a great chance to see a multitude of wildlife species. For those who love camping the parks offer more than 1,700 camp sites from rustic to those equipped with electric and water hookups.
Certain parks are in a class by themselves. Caledon Natural Area on the Potomac River is home to one of the largest concentrations of bald eagles on the East Coast. A five-mile gorge traverses Breaks Interstate Park in far Southwest Virginia, giving it the nickname “Grand Canyon of the East.” Fairy Stone State Park is named for the small cross-shaped mineral formations rarely found in such abundance elsewhere. New River Trail State Park may be the longest and narrowest in the country, measuring 57 miles long and averaging 80 feet in width as it parallels the New River along a former railroad bed now turned into a popular biking trail. A real railroad line goes through Natural Tunnel State Park, utilizing the namesake naturally formed tunnel to get through the mountain.
The parks host a variety of special events and festivals throughout each year. On this special year the state parks will celebrate 75 years on June 18 with free admission and cake.
The state parks also maintain a highly trained professional staff of park rangers adept at assisting guests in making the most of their experience. The rangers also host special nature and wildlife programs that are family favorites.
For more information on Shenandoah National Park and Virginia State Parks, visit www.Virginia.org. Call 1-800-VISITVA for a free Virginia Is For Lovers Travel Guide and highway map.
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