[Inspired by my annual Virginia pilgrimage with the boys, this year’s series will focus on AmericanStudying interesting places in the Commonwealth. Leading up to a special weekend post on my presentation at the Historical Writers of America conference in Williamsburg!]
Briefly AmericanStudying three childhood favorite spots—mine and now my boys!
1) Chris Greene Lake Park: Located in Albemarle County, which surrounds my hometown of Charlottesville, Chris Greene was the go-to lake beach of my childhood (I have vivid memories of both the minnows nibbling on my youthful toes and of the taste of the hot dogs at the concession stand). The lake was first developed in the mid-20th century as a potential county reservoir but ended up a site for recreational swimming and boating, fishing, hiking, and more, an interesting reflection of how our public natural spaces evolve and shift in their identities and roles. This AmericanStudier is also very interested in who Chris Greene was, especially given the complexity of public names in Charlottesville and the South, but so far my researches have been stumped—any help would be much appreciated!
2) Mint Springs Valley Park: A bit deeper into Albemarle County, near the small town of Crozet, is the much more secluded and scenic Mint Springs. This one felt to a young AmericanStudier like a day trip, and my strongest memories are of renting a canoe and exploring the lake that extends well beyond the park’s small beach (although I also remember climbing high up into the playground’s undoubtedly not-to-code metal rocket ship). Per this excellent blog post, the park apparently also features a number of impressive hiking trails, reinforcing (as that blogger also notes) how fully a trip to Mint Springs takes you away from modern life (even in a small town like Crozet). Charlottesville’s not exactly the big city either, of course, but nonetheless the difference between Cville and Mint Springs is striking, reflecting just how quickly and fully much of Virginia shifts back to a rural landscape that hasn’t changed much over the years. I didn’t really appreciate that side of the state while I lived there, but as a resident of the far more congested greater Boston area, I certainly do now.
3) Sherando Lake Recreation Area: Yet on the spectrum of settled to natural, urban to rural, in Virginia, Mint Springs isn’t all the way toward those latter ends—that designation is reserved for protected areas like Shenandoah National Park and the George Washington & Jefferson National Forests. Nestled in those forests, close to the beauty of the Blue Ridge Mountains, is my favorite Virginia spot for swimming, Sherando Lake. I’ve taken both my sons and my fiancée to Sherando in recent years, and each time have felt exactly the same as I did on my childhood visits—in awe of the (it seems to me) untouched and unchanged natural beauty, and of the chance to spend a few hours within such a sacred space. Shenandoah National Park is full of such spaces, of course, but there’s something extra special about a relatively unknown place like Sherando, and about the chance to find there what John Muir called “the clearest way into the Universe.”
Special conference recap this weekend,
PS. What do you think? Interesting places (in any state) you’d highlight?
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