Shenandoah National Park


The original inhabitants of the area were a small tribe of Siouan stock called the Monacans and the Manahoacs. When the first European settlers arrived in the area, they found little evidence of their presence beyond forest clearings. It is speculated that the tribes fell victim to disease, and the survivors were absorbed into larger, surrounding tribes. Settlement of the Shenandoah Valley began soon after the first expedition crossed the Blue Ridge in 1716. Many of the settlers came "up river," north to south, from Pennsylvania.

By 1800, the lowlands had been settled by farmers, while the rugged mountains were still relatively untouched. Later, as valley farmland became scarce, settlement spread into the mountains. The mountain farmers cleared land, hunted wildlife, and grazed sheep and cattle.

By the 20th century, these people had developed a culture of their own, born from the harshness and isolation of mountain living. However, the forests were shrinking, game animals were disappearing, the thin mountain soil was wearing out, and people were beginning to leave.

In 1926, Congress authorized the establishment of Shenandoah National Park. The Commonwealth of Virginia then purchased nearly 280 square miles of land to be donated to the Federal Government. More than half of the population had left the mountain area, and the remaining residents sold their land or were relocated with government assistance. In dedicating the park in 1936, President Franklin D. Roosevelt initiated a novel experiment in returning an overused area to its original natural beauty. Recreational facilities were built by the Civilian Conservation Corps, and in 1939, Skyline Drive was completed.

Croplands and pastures soon became overgrown with shrubs, locusts, and pine; these in turn were replaced by oak, hickory, and other trees that make up a mature deciduous forest. Now, more than 95 percent of the park is covered by forests with about 100 species of trees. The vegetative regeneration has been so complete that in 1976, Congress designated two-fifths of the park as wilderness. The largest remaining open area is Big Meadows, which is being kept in its historically open condition by management fires. Here, the abundance of wildflowers, strawberries, and blueberries attract both wildlife and humans.


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