Vol. 16 Issue 4, Winter 2011
By Leigh Scott and Joe Coleman
Where in western Loudoun County can you experience a rich tapestry of nature, history, and farming in a beautiful setting on the slopes of the Blue Ridge? All this and more can be found at the Blue Ridge Center for Environmental Stewardship on Harpers Ferry Road. The 900-acre nature preserve is open to the public for hiking on a daily basis from dawn to dusk and camping is available by advance reservation. Visitors can contemplate the busy, hardscrabble existence of the people who once lived in the historic log cabins now standing silently in the woods; sit quietly beside the sparkling waters of Piney Run and imagine the seaward journey of the water flowing over the riverbed; or amble along hiking trails in search of a tranquil, leafy escape from the hustle and bustle of daily activities.
Plants and animals thrive in the diverse habitats at Blue Ridge Center. Naturalists, especially those with partner Loudoun Wildlife Conservancy, regularly make use of the site for classes, field trips, and scientific monitoring projects. Loudoun Wildlife Conservancy field excursions offer opportunities to learn more about the native plants, birds, butterflies, and amphibians of our region. Healthy streams and ponds found in the preserve are rich with wildlife and fish, and its many vernal pools are home to numerous frogs and salamanders. Woods and meadows resound with bird song in the spring and early summer, and many birds that are rapidly disappearing from the mid-Atlantic can still be found here. Cerulean, Worm-eating and Kentucky Warblers have been confirmed as local breeding birds by Loudoun Wildlife Conservancy’s Bird Atlas volunteers. Yellow-billed Cuckoos and Wood Thrushes are commonly heard in the forest and the Center is one of the few places left in Loudoun County where one can still hear Whip-Poor-Wills calling on an early summer night. Loudoun Wildlife Conservancy maintains two bluebird trails at the Center and has been monitoring streams here for over a decade. Butterflies appreciate the many host and nectar plants at the Center and it is an important location for the annual Loudoun Butterfly Count.
Blue Ridge Center’s organic Mountain View Farm produces a colorful array of sustainably-grown vegetables that are offered for sale in a community-supported agriculture program as well as at farmers’ markets in the D.C. area. Their pastures feature an assortment of crowd-pleasing barnyard residents, including pigs, cows, chickens, and goats.
Members of the U.S. Trail Ride find the Center a peaceful place to ride horses on meandering trails along streams lined with beautiful ferns. The U.S. Trail Ride, the only people who can ride on the Center, also maintains the extensive network of pathways for hiking as well as horseback riding.
The Blue Ridge Center for Environmental Stewardship was established in 1999, when the Robert and Dee Leggett Foundation purchased historic Mountain View farm to preserve its history, allow others to experience its natural beauty, and protect views from the nearby Appalachian Trail. Although the land is privately owned, the site is managed by the Center’s nonprofit organization whose mission is to inspire environmental stewardship by providing an understanding of how the decisions made by individuals impact the natural world.
The land at the Blue Ridge Center is protected under a conservation easement. Research has been conducted onsite to map ecological communities, identify sites of archaeological interest, and compile inventories of the flora and fauna. While actively preserving these important resources, the Center has made the site available for public recreation, educational programming, and sustainable agriculture ─ thereby demonstrating conservation land can be used for economic and recreational activities when care is taken to maintain balance.
Overnight accommodations at the Center range from campgrounds with nearby hot showers to the rustic yet comfortable rooms at the beautifully renovated Demory-Wortman House. This 1840’s-era farmhouse features charming historic construction details and an energy-efficient central heating and cooling system. The house is available for rent and could be the perfect spot for your next family reunion, group retreat, or holiday party.
At a time when many people are increasingly connected to electronic devices and are less connected to the natural world, the Blue Ridge Center provides an opportunity for children and adults to explore meadows, streams and forest. Exploring nature leads to many interesting discoveries, especially those about oneself. This is clearly the result when Andy Nichols, president of Teamlink, brings children to the Center as part of character-development programs for at-risk or impoverished children in the greater DC area. Andy describes the impact:
“These kids have literally NEVER been outdoors at night, except in the middle of the city. Many of these children are homeless, have incarcerated parents, or are in some other miserable situation. Being at the Blue Ridge Center is a total change of perspective for them. We play in the creek and go on night hikes so that the kids can notice the texture of the trail beneath their shoes and listen to the night sounds. The Blue Ridge Center is helping to touch many children who have so much potential ─ but it’s potential that is often buried deep beneath their hardship. The peace of the facility makes a HUGE impression on them.”
Loudoun Wildlife Conservancy helps keep the Blue Ridge Center open to the public by donating money to support it. Sadly, due to a current shortage of funds, restrooms and other buildings will be unavailable this winter through March, although all the Center’s trails will remain open. You can help ensure that the Center’s buildings reopen in March – and stay open – by spreading the word about what a special place it is and by making tax-deductible donations. For more information and how to make a donation, visit the Center’s website at www.blueridgecenter.org.