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Top 10 ways to connect with Grounds and the Charlottesville community

As the cold weather begins to subside, it’s time to get outside and immerse yourself in everything Charlottesville.

Take a step away from Grounds and watch the rolling hills from the comfort of your —or a friend’s — car along the Skyline Drive.
Take a step away from Grounds and watch the rolling hills from the comfort of your —or a friend’s — car along the Skyline Drive.

If the recent 60 degree weather was any indication, we are certainly barreling towards springtime. Those brisk winter walks will soon become memories of the past as we look to warmer weather. Let this spring season be a rejuvenating and relaxing season by allotting time to venture somewhere new on Grounds and in Charlottesville.

1. Explore Shenandoah’s Skyline Drive and hiking trails

At the heart of Virginia lies the Blue Ridge Mountains of Shenandoah National Park, a true beauty that’s sure to have everyone, not just the nature enthusiasts, in awe. Take a step away from Grounds and watch the rolling hills from the comfort of your —or a friend’s — car along the Skyline Drive. You can also step out from behind the wheel and explore the park’s hiking trails. The Outdoors Club features hiking experiences in Shenandoah and provides transportation to and from the park for members. We all know that the University is gorgeous, but this is a gem you don’t want to miss — the views I saw the summer when I toured the University were unforgettable.

2. Enjoy a night on the town — the Downtown

Let’s face it, we could all use a few meals away from the dining halls or your college house kitchen every now and then. If you’re looking to spice things up, head to the Downtown Mall — just a trolley ride away — for a bite outside. Kick back and enjoy some good grub with some good company. One of my favorite restaurants there is The Whiskey Jar — make sure to order their delicious hushpuppies to kickstart your meal with a tasty Southern delight.

3. Chill on the Lawn

We all know the Lawn — we have been there, we have seen it as the University’s top Google image result, and if you are a fourth-year, you are probably itching to walk it soon. Even though the Lawn is central to Grounds, how often do we actually spend time hanging out there? Roll out a blanket and spend an afternoon on the Lawn by yourself or with friends — I personally enjoy some downtime listening to music on my Airpods and unwinding after a long week of classes. Read a book, catch up on some work or just be.

4. Check out a farmer’s market

Bring your appetite and artistic eye off-Grounds. Only a five-minute drive from us, the Farmer’s Market at IX Art Park features locally-made produce, baked goods and hand-crafted art. From pottery to beads and from pie to bread, there’s something for everyone in this vibrant community of farmers and local artisans. The market is just a ten-minute walk from the Downtown Mall, which you can visit via the Charlottesville Area Transit trolley. Go to browse or buy Saturday mornings between 9 a.m. and 1 p.m., enjoy the fresh air and see just how innovative the local Charlottesville community is.

5. Immerse yourself in Monticello’s nature

Virginia isn’t just home to Thomas Jefferson’s university — it also features his architectural wonder of Monticello. Perhaps less well-known are the gardens of Monticello that Jefferson himself designed. Take a quick drive up and view the beautiful, expansive landscape, filled with flowers and vegetable gardens. Explore on a self-guided tour or register for a guided tour. A new pilot program during the 2022-2023 academic year allows each University student one free ticket, giving students access to several different locations and experiences onsite, including exploring the gardens. At Monticello, you can connect with both blooming history and nature — visiting the gardens is at the top of my bucket list.

6. Root for the Hoos during outdoor sporting events

Thankfully, basketball isn’t the only thing we’re good at. The University’s outdoor athletics are starting up for the spring season, with sports like baseball at Davenport Field at Disharoon Park, softball at Palmer Park, and lacrosse out in Klöckner Stadium. Grab some friends for an afternoon clad in blue and orange. Get into the game, support our student-athletes and spend some time outside.

7. Go on a historical tour of the University

History is at the core of this school, and it manifests itself through the colonial architecture incorporated all throughout Grounds. Besides some general facts about Jefferson, though, most of us aren’t aware of all the layers and complexities of this president and this place. Take some time to learn more by going on a historical tour with the University Guide Service. Any day of the week at 11 a.m., get outside and venture through the Academical Village while learning about the University’s beginnings and its evolution to where it is today.

8. Walk through the Memorial to Enslaved Laborers

Most students recognize the University’s Memorial to Enslaved Laborers situated across from the Corner, but not everyone knows about its unique history. Taking a moment to walk through the ring of the memorial, especially more than once, is always a moving experience — I always find myself getting lost in this history. Take some time to read the writing of each stone underneath the flowing water and to look at the names along the ring. Seeing this history, and at the same time hearing the sounds of nature in the present, makes for a reflective afternoon.

9.   Eat lunch outside at the Amphitheater

Every Friday, students can use meal exchanges or pay regularly at any of the on-Grounds food trucks usually located by the amphitheater. Grab your favorite food truck meal — mine is El Tako Nako’s chicken tacos doused in their red hot sauce — and sit on the steps of the amphitheater to take in the fresh air and enjoy a tasty lunch at the same time. Whether hanging with friends or going solo, eating in the amphitheater is a great way to hit pause on the day, bask in the sun and decompress in this unique outdoor space.

10. Visit Observatory Hill — no, not to eat

Observatory Hill, or O’Hill, is widely known by students as one of the University’s dining halls. However, its name teases something more than this — Observatory Hill is, in fact, home to the Leander McCormick Observatory. Open every first and third Friday of each month, the Observatory includes opportunities to see celestial bodies through telescopes, hear from an astronomer and tour the facility. Gaze beyond our atmosphere and connect with nature above.

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