Shenandoah National Park

Environment
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Shenandoah National Park
Shenandoah National Park (courtesy, NPS)

The Appalachians are old: 50 million years in the making, beginning 300 million years ago. The Blue Ridge is granite overlaid with basalt from at least 12 successive lava flows. The Shenandoah basalt has chemically changed to become greenstone, which has a blackish-green color when cracked open.

Shenandoah's predominate forest is temperate broadleaf trees generally seen farther south: oak and hickory mixed with pine. And there are zones of forest-types seen farther north: hemlock, balsam firs, and gray birches. Streamside trees at the lower elevations along the streams can include birch, basswood, tulip poplar, and red and sugar maples. Black locust is the major pioneer species in disturbed areas, such as old farmland. Most trees are second growth, but there is some old growth in the more rugged, harder to log areas. The Limberlost old-growth trees were saved by park father George Pollack who offered the lumbermen $10 a piece to not cut them down. This is an early enlightened example of how trees left standing can later prove to have a greater economic worth than if they had been cut.

Understory plants are different for each type of forest. Each type of forest has a distinctive array of shrubs, wildflowers, ferns, and fungi—and the birds, butterflies, and insects that feed off of them. A large part of Shenandoah's charm is experiencing the forests and clearings at a fine level of detail, as well as at the grand overlooks.

Since the forests recovery, deer, bear, bobcat, turkey, and other animals that were formerly rare or absent have now returned. Smaller animals as chipmunk, raccoon, skunk, opossum, and gray squirrel are frequently seen. Bear are found mostly in backcountry areas but are occasionally spotted elsewhere. About 200 species of birds have been recorded. A few, such as ruffed grouse, barred owl, raven, woodpeckers, and junco, are permanent residents. Many more are seen during the warmer months. These include flycatchers, thrushes, vireos, and 35 species of warblers. The park is home to several species of salamanders. Two poisonous snakes, the timber rattlesnake and the copperhead, are occasionally reported, as are several harmless species.

One of the most tantalizing mysteries is whether the mountain lion has returned to the parks. Every year, dozens of sightings have been reported, many from reliable sources. Kind of like Bigfoot in California. But nobody has yet to to take a picture. Who knows? Maybe you can be the first...


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