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Trails and tadpole tales in Shenandoah County's Seven Bends State Park

Randi B. Hagi
An old reservoir up on Powell Mountain provides an enchanting view for frogs and hikers alike.

The Seven Bends State Park near the town of Woodstock is home to hiking trails, riverside recreational opportunities, vibrant biodiversity, and some hidden gems of local history. WMRA's Randi B. Hagi reports.

[sounds of bird calls, insects]

One of Virginia's newest state parks is named for the seven bends of the North Fork of the Shenandoah River that flows along its western border. Stroll down the Bass Bight Trail that meanders its way along the river, and you're likely to see deer browsing along the banks, butterflies and pennant dragonflies flitting between milkweed flowers, and visitors tucked into fishing coves or walking their dogs.

Randi B. Hagi
The central park entrance offers access to the river and hiking trails. There is a $5 parking fee that can be paid by cash, check, or with a card online.

Governor Glenn Youngkin held an official dedication ceremony at the park last Tuesday. But plans to create a state park here have been in the works for about 17 years, and the park has been open to the public, albeit under the radar, since 2020.

DAVID BROTMAN: It's 1,066 acres running from the North Fork of the Shenandoah River up to the top of Powell Mountain, which is part of the Massanutten Mountain.

David Brotman is the executive director of Friends of the North Fork of the Shenandoah River, which serves as a community support organization for the park – organizing volunteers and educational programs, and writing grants.

BROTMAN: We've got a very engaged, responsive community, as far as their care of the land.

They have more than 200 registered volunteers who logged over 1,200 hours working in the park last year.

Brotman Hike.jpg
David Brotman
David Brotman is the executive director of Friends of the North Fork of the Shenandoah River.

BROTMAN: On the physical plant level, we have done quite a bit of trail-building, invasive species removal where that's a problem for native plants.

The park was assembled from three parcels of land: two that were donated by the town of Woodstock and a private landowner, and one that the state purchased from the Massanutten Military Academy, where they ran Camp Lupton.

BROTMAN: That was my summer camp when I was a boy … which was formative for me in my connections with nature and recreation in the outdoors.

A clipping from a 1936 news article that was posted in the Facebook group "Abandoned in Shenandoah County - Virginia" reads that the boys' summer camp opened June 29th that year, and offered water sports, horseback riding, athletic fields, and handicrafts, with [quote] "the advantages of working and playing with a group of clean, manly associates."

Brotman noted how pleased he was that the site of the camp will now be preserved for future generations to enjoy, such as the North Fork Conservation Corps – a program for local teens to do service projects, learn, and play in the park.

Randi B. Hagi
A pup cools off in the North Fork.

BROTMAN: They can canoe, kayak, fly fish … but we also bring them out in the woods where they can learn about trees and wildlife and all sorts of aspects of nature … Those teens, in the first year of the program, helped clear vegetation that had grown up around those old Woodstock reservoirs … one of the two of them is a mysterious-looking old stone structure out in the middle of the woods, halfway up the mountain … that is where the town used to catch its water off the mountain and pipe it over into town.

As I found out from the Woodstock town manager, both of the reservoirs are well over a hundred years old, having been built in 1901 and 1910, respectively. Ancient structures hidden in the woods sounded too cool for me to pass up, so I set out on a mission to find these reservoirs on Wednesday afternoon.

Randi B. Hagi
Ferns line a section of Reservoir Trail on Powell Mountain.

If you can survive the very steep initial ascent of the Pawpaw Hollow Trail …

[sound of reporter's footsteps on the trail]

… and keep trekking for another mile and a half or so, through ferns and sun-baked pines and wild blueberry bushes, you come to the Woodstock reservoirs – two big basins hewn out of stone tucked into the mountainside. One of them is empty, but the other is full of water, and life.

[sound of bird calls, insects]

If you listen very closely, you can hear what sounds like water dripping – it's actually tons and tons of big, fat tadpoles coming up to the surface of the pond.

Randi B. Hagi
Tadpoles swimming up to the surface of the reservoir.

[sound of tadpoles]

The park's master plan notes that gray treefrogs and green frogs are among the park's amphibious residents – of which there are many. The forested parts of Seven Bends are classified as an "outstanding" area of ecological integrity – the highest rating attainable under the Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation's natural landscape assessment.

Some sections of the park that have traditionally been farmed for corn, soybeans, and hay are slated to be developed as demonstration fields for best agricultural practices when cultivating beside a river. The stretch of the North Fork of the Shenandoah River within the park is also part of the 8.8 miles that were designated as a Virginia Scenic River in April.

Randi B. Hagi
An orchard orbweaver spider bid me adieu on my way back down the mountain.

Randi B. Hagi first joined the WMRA team in 2019 as a freelance reporter. Her writing and photography have been featured in The Harrisonburg Citizen, where she previously served as the assistant editor; as well as The Mennonite; Mennonite World Review; and Eastern Mennonite University's Crossroads magazine.