After our excursion to Hawksbill Summit, Bethany, Sean, and I returned to Big Meadows campground to strike camp. We’d done some preliminary work toward this before the hike, and now we had about an hour to finish up before the noon checkout time. Bethany would be driving home to Pennsylvania that Sunday afternoon, July 31. And Sean and I had a flight to Chicago departing at 6:13pm, so we still had some time in the Park, certainly enough to explore the Visitor Center and have a picnic.
Video: Sean M. Santos
That afternoon, the charismatic megafauna were out in force in the fast emptying campground. Sean captured footage of a family of Whitetail Deer browsing where there had recently been campers.
And on the short drive between Big Meadows Campground and Byrd Visitor Center we spotted the Black Bear cub digging in a large anthill at the side of the road.
We watched the little bear until it sauntered off to find a different anthill. Then we continued on to the Visitor Center.
Outside, there was a statue of a Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) boy, part of Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s “tree army” of young men working on conservation projects across the country during the Great Depression. Shenandoah National Park, still under development in advance of its official opening in 1935, was one of the first places the CCC was deployed. And Big Meadows played host to a celebration of the CCC attended by FDR in 1933.
Inside the Visitor Center, the interpretive displays focused heavily on the work to create a National Park in the southern Appalachian Mountains. It did not shy away from telling the stories of the people who lived in the mountains and the hollows before the Park displaced them. The displays took great care to revise the perception of these people as ignorant hillbillies.
The displays also explored the fact of segregation in the Park’s early history with African Americans relegated to Lewis Mountain campground and lodge. Ironically, in spite of the disgrace of a federal Park’s complicity in perpetuating racial segregation, Lewis Mountain became a local gathering place for African Americans with a thriving music scene.
After the Visitor Center, on the way back to the day-use picnic area near the campground, we again encountered the little bear.
Video: Brandon Hayes
We picnicked on macaroni and cheese and hot dogs, cooked on the picnic table with our backpacking stove.
We shared the picnic area with a large extended family cooking a huge low pan of simmering meats and rice over a fire. The children were playing soccer while the adults milled about. Sean observed that the scene felt more like a Metropark in the Detroit area or a Forest Preserve near Chicago. It was evidence of how accessible Shenandoah National Park is to major population centers.
After our picnic, we finished packing up and then parted ways. On our way out of the Park and back to Charlottesville, Sean and I stopped at a few final overlooks.
Just before our flight departed that evening, a thunderstorm rolled across the Virginia Piedmont. Because we had to walk across the tarmac to board the flight, the American Airlines crew expedited the boarding process. The flight attendant stood at the top of the stairs into the plane waving and encouraging us to hurry before it started to rain. They held the flight once we were all onboard because of the storm. And once it had passed, we were cleared for takeoff. Adding to the excitement, the flight attendant was cheeky and fun, spicing up the safety briefing with a quiz and tolerating no nonsense otherwise.
We passed over the Blue Ridge Mountains and Shenandoah National Park once more as we flew home to Chicago.
And as we walked up our street toward our building that lovely Sunday summer evening, Elsa was pleased to see us.