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A short story by Etta Belle Walker

The Skyline Drive

Title:     The Skyline Drive
Author: Etta Belle Walker [More Titles by Walker]

This world famous drive is not very old in point of years, but its lure has and is attracting thousands of visitors every week to see the beauties along its borders. Beginning at the northern entrance at Front Royal, one winds around curving grades of finely built roads which pass through great forests of oak, walnut, maple and wonderful specimens of evergreens.

West of the Drive one sees the eastern section of the Shenandoah Valley and Massanutten Mountain which divides the Shenandoah River into two forks for fifty miles or more. The river winds in and out and at one place the guide will point out eleven bits of blue river spots as it makes as many turns through the Valley. One thinks of old patchwork quilts as he looks into the Valley below, for there are patches of green fields, oblong bits of blue water, red roofs of barns and homes, besides the various shades of greenwood lots.

And no matter when or how often one goes, the views are never the same. Sometimes the blue haze from the Blue Ridge Mountains makes the sunlight turn to a golden mist. Clouds often cast huge moving shadows over the fields and forests below--and sometimes they shut out the patchwork entirely, leaving the visitor in a gray world, with only himself and the clouds below and above. But this is unusual.

Tall stark gray chestnut trees make a striking contrast against the greens and flowers, especially in the Fall when the leaves are so brilliantly colored. These once-producing nut trees were killed by blight years ago.

Occasionally one's attention is caught by a moving object high above on some peak. This will prove, upon investigation, to be a hiker, or maybe two or more. Every year more and more of these nature lovers are using the Appalachian Trail, which, as you know, is the foot-trail from Maine to Georgia. It was through the Potomac Appalachian Trail Club that this link in the trail was included in the Skyline Drive and they maintain locked shelters for hikers along the way within the park.

Other trails invite one to lofty peaks through wild canyons and into groves of giant hemlocks. Another takes one through White Oak Canyon where a stream of pure water tumbles over huge rocks and makes a snow-white misty spray. Here one sees rare wild flowers, ferns, moss and herbs. There are trout lilies, Solomon's-seal, Hepaticae and many other varieties of flowers.

There is a trail to Big and Little Devil's Staircases where two hundred foot cliffs protect narrow canyons filled with maidenhair fern, spleenwort, cinnamon, wild parsley, ginseng and ginger. Tall maple and tulip trees are lovingly intertwined by such clinging vines as trumpet vines and honeysuckle while at their feet grow rare ferns and carpets of moss. One hears the songs of the birds and sees the flashing of their brilliant colored wings.

Not far from Mary's Rock is Skyland. Here the tourist finds accommodations for overnight or longer. Big roaring fires at evening make visitors linger to listen to the stories of the Valley.

Horseback riding is great sport for the Skyline guests who explore the various trails nearby.

The visitor may leave the drive at Panorama and go west down the mountain to Luray. Or he may go east from Panorama down a lovely road to Sperryville. Then on Route 211 he may motor north to Washington or, if he would like to go by way of Culpeper, Madison, Orange and Fredericksburg, he would find a rolling country and inviting roads to the west, south and east.

If the visitor would continue the drive to Swift Run Gap, he could go over the Spotswood Trail to Elkton and to the Valley beyond. If he would go east, he would also use the Spotswood Trail to Stanardsville and Gordonsville, then to Orange or to Charlottesville.

Who dreamed the dream or had the first vision of the Skyline Drive? What farsighted men started the movement which resulted in our national government's making a great scenic park in Virginia?

A bulletin from the Commonwealth gives the following summary:

"The movement which has made this area a national park was begun in 1924 when the director of the National Park Service and the Secretary of the Interior conferred on the establishment of a park in the southern Appalachian Mountains. The Secretary appointed a committee to choose the most attractive and suitable area; in December, 1924, his committee voted unanimously for the area of the Blue Ridge mountains between Front Royal and Waynesboro to be the first large national park in the East....

"Acquisition of the area was a very difficult task. In 1926 the newly created Virginia State Commission on Conservation and Development started field work, and the Shenandoah National Park Association began a campaign to raise funds for the purchase of the land. The required area was made up of 3,870 separate tracts. Most of the owners did not wish to sell; land titles were not clear nor boundaries well defined; sufficient money to make the purchase was not available. Congress reduced the minimum area required for administration, protection, and development of the park by the National Park Service. Certain individuals made large donations. The Virginia legislature appropriated $1,000,000 for acquisition and passed a special law providing for wholesale condemnation of the land. Finally, in 1935, at a total cost of approximately $2,000,000, 275 square miles were acquired, and the deed to the park area was presented to the United States government by the State of Virginia.

"The completion of this tremendous task of acquiring and establishing the Shenandoah National Park has made available to the people of the United States, for recreational and educational purposes, an unusually attractive region of mountains, hollows, dashing streams, forests and flowers.

"The mountains rise to a maximum height of slightly more than 4,000 feet above sea level, or approximately 3,200 feet above the surrounding country."

[The end]
Etta Belle Walker's short story: Skyline Drive