Ramble On

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

GWNF Interpretive Trails: A Couple of Easy Day Hikes

On Saturday, once my chores were done and since we had a warm day, I decided to head up to Massanutten Mountain and do a little hike. I set out to do Bird Knob starting at the GWNF visitor center on US 211 at New Market Gap, and would decide once I was there whether I had adequate daylight to complete the hike – and indeed decided against it once I was there.

Instead, after a short visit around the (permanently closed) visitor center, I walked along both of the interpretive trails in this vicinity. In GWNF, there are six of these interpretive trails, including the Charcoal Trail near Elizabeth Furnace; Discovery Way Trail, just off of US 211 in New Market Gap; Wildflower Trail, also in New Market Gap; Pig Iron Trail near Elizabeth Furnace; Lion’s Tale Trail, on Crisman Hollow Road; and the Story Book Trail, also on Crisman Hollow, which I have mentioned here several times.

I started by taking a walk around the parking area of the visitor center – I have been trying to get by here when it was open for some time now – and finally noticed the sign about its permanent closure. There are a couple of fixtures left in a state of neglect, including this large area of benches at the Discovery Way trailhead – more on the trail in a moment.

For history in this area, the Fairfax Line was surveyed through here in the mid 1600’s and passes near Bird Knob – this line marks the early land grant to Lord Fairfax, lands that became known as Virginia’s Northern Neck. This segment is a straight line that extends to the headwaters of the Potomac River.

A second historical note was a Civil War encampment of General Stonewall Jackson, as noted on this interpretive marker. Page Valley and the greater Shenandoah Valley were witness to many of Jackson’s exploits, and New Market Gap is no exception.

After exploring these features, I walked over to the Wildflower Trail, which was marked with the enticing sign at the beginning of this post. As described in one of the PATC guides:
“This east-west trail descends from the Visitor Center to an abandoned picnic area, sharing some of its tread with the Massanutten South Trail. Signs explain the effect of people and creatures on forest health. The trail is noted for its display of wildflowers in season, especially pink lady slippers in May. The trail tread is crushed stone.”

There were no wildflowers in sight on my trip (we may come back to see them in the spring), and US 211 is visible through the trees during the winter, so it’s quite noisy. This is also the trailhead to Bird Knob, so one point of interest is the intersection with the route to the summit, which is also where Wildflower connects with the greater Massanutten Trail.

After I walked back to the trailhead, I found the sign for the Discovery Trail – I was also doing some work learning how to use my new altimeter watch, and roughly was able to verify the altitude gain of 200 feet over the course of this hike…more to follow on that part of the day. As described in the PATC guide:
“This shaded spur trail leaves from the far end of the parking lot. It offers explanations of items found along forest trails.”

It would be an understatement to say I was disappointed with this experience. The only interpretive guidance was found on the trailhead sign, although it is clear that the trail once had a lot to offer. Here are photos of the sign posts that used to hold information along the way, as well as a shot of a bird house that is mounted on a tree, and an abandoned, not finished, millstone.

This trail is paved, so it could make for a nice family outing. It terminates in a ravine, slightly uphill from the end of the Wildflower Trail. At the higher altitude, there are several large stones that have tumbled down the mountain side over the millennia. It is a quiet place and the pause there was restful, even if it was hard to contain my disappointed in seeing this trail with so much to offer in such a state of neglect.

I had a nice time up on the mountain despite the disappointment. Combined with an earlier walk around the neighborhood at the Hawksbill Cabin, I managed over 10K steps that day, measured on my new Timex pedometer – and I am very close to my goal of averaging 5K per day for the month of January. But could I recommend these trails? Not really – not without some much needed maintenance and rework of the interpretive information.


Bob Look said...


It will be interesting to find out how accurate you find the altimeter on your new watch to be after you get totally familiar with it.

I am not sure if this is pertinet but I have done a lot of work with the altimeter on my Garmin etrex VISTA HCx and I find that even when I start the day adjusting the altimeter at a known USGS benchmark that within a very short time afterward my elevations can vary by plus or minus 50-100 feet for the exact same spots on the exact trail week to week.

Even when I recalibrate my etrex at a couple of known elevations (Summit of Old Rag for example) I find that by the time I get down off the summit to a USGS benchmark near the fire road my readings can again be off by a plus or minus 50-100 feet. There are around 50 points of interest or blaze markers on the Old Rag circuit that I was trying to get accurate altitude readings of. I did try messing around with turning on and off the GPS satelite correction of altitude feature. It did change the behaviour of the altimeter but in the end whether the satellite altitude correction feature was on or off the accuracy of my altitude readings still seemed to drift by a plus or minus 50-100 feet over time.

I am a GPS newbie and have just recently started to learn about grid reference/datum models and now realize that these could easily explain my accuracy variances.

In order to try and get a fairly accurate reading of my 50 points of interest I took recordings over several ciruits. By putting all the readings in a spreadsheet and then both averaging the readings as well as using a topomap as a sanity check I got the best readings I could using the tools at my disposal.

My Old Rag points of interest list is mostly for my personl use but (with the exception of any known elevations from the map or USGS benchmarks) I assume that my list could still be off by plus or minus 10-30 feet and I always assume my Garmin can be off by a plus or minus 50-100 feet at any given time.

Of course professionals can get GPS gear that can measure altitude with an accuracy of plus or minus fractions of an inch.


It is a shame that all those interpretive signs were removed. It makes me wonder what the story behind their removal is?

Virginia bed and breakfast | Victorian inn bed and breakfast | Romantic bed and breakfasts said...

I did the hike with friends from Scothorn Trail. Very good hike with favorable weather conditions after so much rain in June. We had a nice breeze most of the day which reserved the mosquitoes and horseflies at bay. Very wise to take a comprehend and a topo map, we missed the Massanutten trail by staying on the Scothorn Trail a little too long which ended up in a dead end marsh.

Best Regards,

Jim said...


That's interesting about the Garmin. Before I got the Pathfinder I read about this problem a little, so I expect some fluctuations. That's why I'm taking "baby steps" - the title of the post today! Thanks for the comment!


Jim said...

Virginia B&B/Victorian: My colleagues and I used the Scothorn Gap Trail as one of our practice hikes getting ready for Yosemite in 2005. I agree with you, it can be hard to find some of the trail markers there, and I bet we made the same mistake once or twice.

The trail to Duncan Knob from the hollow can be a bit more straightforward...but I think Scothorn Gap is more interesting in general.

The worst time for the bugs there is August. Uggh!