By Molly Pinson Simoneau
It’s no secret that I love a challenging hike. I’ve written here about hiking sections of the Appalachian Trail and Shenandoah National Park. I’ve taken vacations with my family to Colorado where I’ve attempted to conquer a “fourteener” (a summit that is higher than 14,000 feet), and crossed the “CD” (Continental Divide) on foot.
But all walking and hiking doesn’t need to be a literal uphill battle in order to be fun or rewarding. Take the time I visited Paris, and would spend the whole day just wandering the streets on foot for hours and hours, occasionally stopping to peer into a shop window or gallery or buy a baguette and some camembert, then keep walking until I decided I was tired, hop on the Métro and head back to the hostel.
Sometimes, you just want an easy, slow-paced walk. The kind where you can use your eyes and ears and nose to explore what’s around you.
This is something my grandma taught me when I was just a kid and she and I would go on walks in local parks together. She would point out a specific bird call – sometimes she knew what bird made that sound and sometimes she didn’t – but the point was just to pay attention. She would make up stories about a troll living under a footbridge, which made the local park seem like a fairy-tale forest. When we occasionally went to the beach she always found the neatest things in the sand: horseshoe crab shells, sharks’ teeth, seaglass. All of these items seemed like treasures.
I have a walk to recommend today that is perfect for slowing down and taking in the real sights and sounds; like the aerial acrobatics of swallows catching insects and the imaginary, fantastical elements, like fairies hiding just out of sight.
On Route 50, just west of the Shenandoah River, is the Virginia State Arboretum and Blandy Experimental Farm, a 700-acre “living museum,” open to the public free of charge from dawn til dusk. The grounds are wonderfully diverse with everything from cultivated gardens near the Quarters Building at the entrance, to active farmland with growing crops, open meadows, and even wetlands.
If you’re the curious type, you’ll love that most of the trees have plaques declaring their species, particularly on the Virginia Native Plant Trail and in the herb garden. I recommend taking a walk on the Bridle Trail, (yes, horses are welcome here!) and finishing with a picnic on the lawn near the Quarters Building. Be sure to bring a pair of binoculars to spot birds and other wildlife. I have a smartphone app that helps me identify birds, but an old-fashioned identification guidebook will do.
This is the kind of flat, easy walk that you can take the whole family on. In fact, much of the grounds closer to the Quarters Building are probably even navigable by a wheelchair or baby stroller. So, take Mom, Dad, Grandpa, and the kids; see if you can catch a bullfrog on the shore of the pond, but watch out for the goblin lurking in the cattails! For more information visit blandy.virginia.edu.
Molly Pinson Simoneau grew up in western Loudoun and enjoys hiking most weekends.