Reading Roundup: Marshall Book Clubs Read and Hike
When only the delicate spring flowers bloom on the mountaintops, and leaves are still buds on the trees of the Blue Ridge, you might find traces of the people who once called this place home. Before our treasured Shenandoah National Park existed, there were generations of families living in close-knit communities on the ridges and hollows of these Virginia mountains. This history unfolds in Shenandoah: A Story of Conservation and Betrayal, by Sue Eisenfeld, a writer, and bushwhacking hiker who has been searching for the relics of the long forgotten people who were displaced to create the park that now belongs to all of us. Only recently has the true story of the park been recognized and explored.
Shenandoah National Park was established in the 1930’s in a worthy effort to give a protected reclaimed wilderness area to the Eastern half of our country. The park was pieced together from over 3,000 individual tracts of land purchased or condemned by the Commonwealth of Virginia and presented to the Federal Government. This “gift” to our country necessitated the displacement of more than 500 families who were either relocated or just asked to leave homes, farms and a way of life that had been passed down through generations. To “restore and create a natural landscape,” the Civilian Conservation Corps volunteers dismantled almost all buildings and worked to remove all signs of habitation. Traces remain, however. Stone walls, family cemeteries, a washtub or broken dish, an apple tree blooming in the spring woods. These are just a few of the haunting clues to the lives of these mountain people.
The two Marshall Book Clubs were inspired by their winter reading of this story, and in early April they took a hike to quietly look for signs of the displaced mountain people. What did they leave behind? The Fox Hollow Trail on Dickey Ridge provides a perfect hike for exploring the beauty of the mountains while looking for clues to generations of the Fox family. The forest has reclaimed the cleared farmland of the 1930’s, but there are signs of the people who once lived and worked here. Lilies, periwinkle and daffodils, planted long ago, still bloom and give evidence of a family cemetery, and perhaps a nearby home. Stone walls trail through the forest and lead to a crumbling barn foundation. A narrow dirt trail, now overgrown and shaded by trees, was once the road that led down the mountain to the town of Front Royal. A single apple tree blooms in the forest, and a giant Sycamore still stands by the old road. The sycamore is remembered by Lemuel Fox Jr., mountain resident and descendant, as “the only tree on the hill in the 1920’s.” Looking at these two trees is to look at the past. They are visual reminders of the great sacrifice required to make our now cherished park a reality. While standing on the mountainside, we should pay tribute and not forget those who lived here so long ago.
Recommended for learning more about the displaced people of the park, is a trip to the Byrd Visitor Center, near Big Meadows along the Skyline Drive. Visitors are able to explore an extensive exhibit with photos of the people and places that are mentioned in Sue Eisenfeld’s book. An added attraction is the showing of “The Gift,” a long overdue account of the real history of the formation of the Park.
Deborah, Branch Manager, John Marshall branch library