For as long as I can remember, I’ve always sought out places where I can feel completely alone, safe and familiar. Not always an easy task in Loudoun County, but, as they say, where there’s a will there’s a way.
I first heard about the Blue Ridge Center for environmental Stewardship when the County Government was mulling over the Purchase of Development Rights program- as a possible conservation easement candidate. I learned that this place contained almost 900 acres of the closest thing to publicly-accessible wilderness I was gonna find this side of the Blue Ridge. I think I used the first excuse I could find to cover a news story up there, back when Wage Radio in Leesburg still employed humans to tell stories.
I was hooked; the place had, for me, everything from the specific to the sublime. You could lose yourself watching a turtle in Wortman Pond –or in a meadow full of butterflies, or you could just stand gazing at the views of Short Hill Mountain to the east or the Blue Ridge to the West – and even some of the landscape which heads north to Harpers Ferry. Pretty fertile ground for the historic imagination. The place is also big enough, and filled with enough well-maintained trails, through hilly terrain, to provide about 9 miles of possibilities to fulfill an ambitious wanderlust. I still haven’t even walked the entire network of hiking paths, all these years after my initial discovery.
But, back to the 21st Century and the Blue Ridge Center: I can never figure out why the place isn’t more crowded; their parking lot only accommodates a dozen or so cars, and I’ve only run into other people on the trails on one occasion- a friendly group on horseback.
In fact, the US Trail Riders should get a big plug for all the volunteer work they perform on the walking and/or riding paths at the Center. They place a high value on the availability of recreational trails in the region, what with a fast-disappearing natural landscape.
That’s where a guy like me fits in, I guess, since I come from an area of the country where I may have taken space and outdoor activity for granted. My former home along the Mississippi River afforded countless hours of healthy exploration and solitude; my boyhood farmstead had taught me the importance of having expansive places to roam.
I’m guessing that many of my neighbors don’t frequent venues like the Blue Ridge Center (and I know there are other outdoor playgrounds in
Loudoun County, but today’s story focuses on this giant up in the northwest hills) because they never developed a love for limitless space.
For me, it’s as important as the air I breathe. Maybe it is the air I breathe. Just as the horse riders value their experiences, I clutch onto those activities which cleanse the lungs, sharpen the vision, develop the appetite, expand the heart, and otherwise entice the senses with the knowledge that there’s always more horizon.
So, on the days when I have an extra couple of hours to myself, you may just find me traipsing the hills of the Blue Ridge Center –imagining myself an early American explorer, or maybe even one of the first Real Americans, before the ‘Discovery,’ or perhaps as a scout for one of the sides of the Civil War, take your pick. Or maybe I’m just little, mortal Tim Jon, facing slightly smaller, if no less personally important issues in my own life. Because this is the best place I can find to fix what ails me, and to make me strong enough to face the times I know
lie ahead. This is mine, for now.
You can have your shopping malls and luncheons. I’ll take the Blue Ridge Center and whatever it can throw my way: rain, snow, mud, tree limbs, etc.
And, you know, on second thought, maybe it’s not for everybody. Maybe eccentrics like me are in the vast minority here. That way, the parking lot will always hold just a dozen or so vehicles, and the only humans I encounter will be few, far between, and pretty darn friendly.