The story below is an excerpt from our Jan./Feb. 2015 issue. For the rest of this story and more like it subscribe today, view our digital edition or download our FREE iOS app!
Photo by Leonard Adkins
Hikes on Massanutten Mountain will be a part of the Appalachian Trail Conservancy’s 40th Biennial Meeting.
Hiking can, and should be, more than putting one foot in front of the other just to reach a destination. Think about how much more you would appreciate and be aware of your surroundings if you had some knowledge of the flora and fauna you are likely to see, how the landscape came to have its current composition and look, of the historical events that took place and of the culture of the people of the area you are walking through.
In addition, learning how to hike and camp in the most environmentally sound ways, how to lighten your backpack load and even finding out about new places to go will add to the satisfaction of your outings. The question is, how to obtain this knowledge?
One way is to take introductory lessons from those who are experts in these fields or, better yet, go for walks in the woods with them so that you can learn surrounded by nature’s classroom. Luckily, there are a large number of gatherings, festivals, pilgrimage, and other outdoors celebrations spread throughout the year in the Blue Ridge region that provide wonderful opportunities to improve your hiking skills and natural world acumen. Herewith is a sampling of the many:
With the severe budget cuts that the national parks have had to endure during the last couple of decades, I’m always impressed by the number and quality of events that the dedicated personnel of these cash-strapped natural treasures are able to put together. The Annual New River Gorge Wildflower Festival (April 24-26, 2015) sponsored by the New River Gorge National River (nps.gov/neri) is one such event. Last year, festival participants identified more than 60 different wildflowers on just one of the outings, an easy 2.5-mile hike, and explored numerous waterfalls along Brush Creek on another walk. Although not presented by the national park, the New River Birding and Nature Festival (birding-wv.com; April 27-May 2, 2015) takes place immediately after the wildflower festival with walks, hikes, and classes. Just be sure to sign up as soon as possible – some of the events are already filled.
Attention Appalachian Trail devotees. Are you always hungering for more information about the AT and hiking? Then head to Winchester, Virginia for the Appalachian Trail Conservancy’s 40th Biennial Meeting (appalachiantrail.org) from July 17-24, 2015. There are the usual business meetings any organization has – electing officers, amending by-laws, and passing resolutions – but these last only a few hours. Past biennials have offered workshops about the geology of the AT, trail-related medical problems and how to keep the meat out and the sprouts in your hiking diet. In addition to outings on national park and national forest lands, more than 200 miles of the AT are featured in a series of group hikes ranging from strenuous overnight backpacks to easy short strolls on nearly-level land. You could also hobnob with some of hiking’s celebrated legends at the 2,000-miler reception, look over a variety of arts and crafts and speak with outdoor equipment company reps about their latest innovations or learn how to volunteer to maintain the trail.
One and a half million miles. That’s the estimated cumulative amount of long-distance hiking experience of those who attend the Appalachian Long Distance Hikers’ Association’s Annual Gathering on Columbus Day Weekend. (aldha.org for 2015’s location.)
The gathering was started, in part, for those dreaming about hiking the Appalachian Trail to learn from those who have done it. There’s a session in which thru-hikers who have just completed the AT supply the most up-to-date trail information. Having the chance to talk with hikers who have walked thousands of miles with less than 15-pound packs is reason enough to attend. There are always a number of thru-hike slide shows and information on journeys throughout America and the world, such as the Pacific Crest and Continental Divide trails and treks in New Zealand, Canada, England, Europe, Africa and Asia. It’s not all seriousness, though. Frisbee games, a used equipment flea market, impromptu storytelling and concerts by hiking singer/songwriters provide entertaining diversions. A favorite is the Saturday-night square dance. ...