It was a spectacular day for a hike! It was in conjunction with the Piedmont Environmental Council’s Mountain Heritage event at Graves Mill. It was a special weekend with music, family photographs, oral histories, and tours of the chapel and mill. This event celebrated the mountain farms and families who lived and worked there prior to the Shenandoah Park.
For this hike, we had a special group ranging from 9 year old Cameron Dudley and 17 year old soccer player Alex Dudley to a guest hiker, Steve Bair, District Manger of blue blaze trails in the South District. With the energy of youth, and the knowledge of a veteran trail maintainer, we were treated to side bushwhacks to cemeteries and stories of the people who lived in the area. Steve said that there are 100 cemeteries in the SNP, but only 4 still active. Most of then have simple field stone markers, and are usually found from the periwinkle groundcover. Steve also noted the site of the Big Bridge that used to cross the Rapidan River.
As we climbed the trail up the Staunton, we spotted a water testing station that UVa is using to monitor water quality and flow. The trail was in wonderful shape, and at the start there were lots of wildflowers. It was the perfect day for a strolling ascent up the Staunton River. We enjoyed a snack, visited another hidden cemetery, and then took on our big ascent. Led by Alex, we climbed toward the Jones Mtn cabin, 3 ½ miles from the parking lot. No one was at the cabin, so we had our picnic lunch in front, beside the spring. Steve shared more stories of the layout of the area during the times of Harvey Nichols, the moonshiner who last lived there. This cabin had been forgotten after he was forced out, and it wasn’t until the 1970’s that it was rediscovered, and eventually rebuilt by the PATC. We visited the site of his 2nd wife, Cricket’s, grave as we returned. The PATC has a wonderful book "Lost Trails and Forgotten People: The Story of Jones Mtn." about this area and the scores of families who lived in Madison County.
Others who enjoyed the hike were Barbara Dudley, Dan Funkhouser, CJ Woodburn, David Crowe, Neil McKinney, Art Bykonen, Jeanne Siler, first time hiker Megan Davis, and Dave Borszich. Working the PATC display table while we hiked were Bill Holman and Rich Bard, along with Kodi, a chocolate lab.