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How the U.Va. community escapes to nature through their favorite local hikes

Students and professors recommend their favorite escapes into nature in and around the Charlottesville area

<p>Emma Graham, a fourth- year Engineering student and Charlottesville local, suggests students visit Chris Greene Lake Park, which is centered around a scenic lake just minutes away from the Charlottesville-Ablemarle Airport.</p>

Emma Graham, a fourth- year Engineering student and Charlottesville local, suggests students visit Chris Greene Lake Park, which is centered around a scenic lake just minutes away from the Charlottesville-Ablemarle Airport.

The first two weeks of class have brought the most student traffic Grounds has seen in the past year and a half. From those feeling a little overwhelmed from the first week of classes to those looking for a good workout or just a way to explore Charlottesville, students and professors have shared their favorite ways to escape the city and breathe in the mountain air.

Assistant Professor of Biology Amanda Gibson recommends the 219 acre Ivy Creek Nature Preserve, which borders the southern side of the Rivanna Reservoir just six miles north of Charlottesville. The park includes seven miles of walking trails varying in difficulty and many diverse habitats, making it an ideal location to be immersed in the natural history of Central Virginia. 

“They have a beautiful native plant garden, and my postdoc Fabiane Mundim discovered a nice diversity of plant parasitic nematodes and their bacterial parasites in the soil there,” Gibson wrote in an email to The Cavalier Daily.

The preserve also provides over 200 public nature walks and programs that are free and open to the public each year to learn more about the area, along with a quiet observation area to sit and watch the local birds come to nest boxes, feeders and bird fountains.

Aside from the nature preserve, Gibson said that her most memorable hike in the area was at Jarman's Gap, an out-and-back eight mile hike from mile post 96.8 along Skyline Drive.

“In the span of about three hours we saw between two to three black bears, one of which unexpectedly popped its head out of the hollow of a dead tree 10 feet up, clambered down and shuffled off as we frantically waved our arms and shouted ‘bear in a tree!’’’ Gibson said.

The gap was originally the main crossing through the Blue Ridge mountains, first as a buffalo trail and later as a Native American trail, before Three Notch'd Road was constructed through it. The trail for all skill levels features a waterfall and many patches of wild ginger.

Assoc. Anthropology Prof. China Scherz also recommended the many trails off Skyline Drive, a 105-mile road that runs the entire length of the National Park Service's Shenandoah National Park in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia.

“Loft Mountain is a great introduction to Shenandoah hiking,” Scherz said in an email to The Cavalier Daily.

Loft Mountain is a 2.1 mile family-friendly loop that begins near Loft Mountain Wayside at milepost 79.5, where hikers and campers can stock up on groceries and supplies. The trail features two waterfalls and scenic vistas and passes through the largest campground in the park.

Biology Prof. Butch Brodie also loves to hike and checkout the local wildlife in his free time.

“I generally go anywhere with water — for me hikes are more about seeing what animals, plants or fungus I can discover than about the vistas and landmarks,” Butch said in an email to The Cavalier Daily. “I often don’t even follow trails, but walk creek sides or rivers to run into the most diverse array of organisms.”

He recommended his favorite hike White Rock Falls, just off the Blue Ridge Parkway. White Rock Falls is a 4.4 mile loop just around 50 minutes from Grounds according to its website. This hike features a wooded trail full of rock scrambles, a veiled 30-foot waterfall and creek with two scenic vistas.

“Every creek has salamanders under rocks at the edges, and we are in one of the global hotspots for salamander diversity so you never know what you’ll find,” Butch said. “On the lucky days there might be water snakes or hognose snakes foraging for fish or amphibians.”

Fourth-year Engineering student Emma Graham, a Charlottesville local, continues to enjoy exploring her hometown in her free time and suggests students visit Chris Greene Lake Park.

“Multiple short hiking trails branch off of the park, and my favorite one ends at a large fenced-in dog park,” Graham said in an email to The Cavalier Daily. “The dog park borders the lake so the dogs can join you for a swim.”

The park is centered around a scenic lake just minutes away from Charlottesville-Albemarle Airport. It provides over three miles of trails, multiple picnic areas, kayak rentals, a playground and even a volleyball court.

Fourth-year College student Aarti Sakhuja also loves to explore around Charlottesville on the weekends and sometimes convinces her friends to go on early morning sunrise hikes.

“One of my favorite hikes around Charlottesville is Sugar Hollow/Blue Hole which is a pretty short four mile out-and-back hike which ends in a gorgeous waterfall with a swimming hole,” Sakhuja said in an email to The Cavalier Daily.

The Sugar Hollow trail to Blue Hole is a favorite for those spending the summer in the heat of Charlottesville, as the trail climbs upward along the hillside of the reservoir through dense forest with a couple of stream crossings leading to the swimming hole 1.5 miles from the parking lot.

“I highly recommend this hike to anyone, the drive is incredibly scenic, the trail itself is only moderately hard, and there are lots of places to dip your feet in,” Sakhuja wrote.

These are just a few of the extensive hiking spots within Charlotteville and the surrounding area, and almost anyone on Grounds can point those looking to explore in the direction of a good adventure.