Seven Bends State Park offers trails and tadpole tales
Randi B. Hagi/WMRA
The Seven Bends State Park near the town of Woodstock is home to hiking trails, riverside recreational opportunities, vibrant biodiversity, and some hidden gems of local history.
One of Virginia's newest state parks, it's named for the seven bends of the North Fork of the Shenandoah River that flows along its western border. Stroll down the Bass Bight Trail that meanders its way along the river, and you're likely to see deer browsing along the banks, butterflies and pennant dragonflies flitting between milkweed flowers, and visitors tucked into fishing coves or walking their dogs.
Gov. Glenn Youngkin held an official dedication ceremony at the park last Tuesday. But plans to create a state park here have been in the works for about 17 years, and the park has been open to the public, albeit under the radar, since 2020.
"It's 1,066 acres running from the North Fork of the Shenandoah River up to the top of Powell Mountain, which is part of the Massanutten Mountain," said David Brotman, the executive director of Friends of the North Fork of the Shenandoah River, which serves as a community support organization for the park. They organize volunteers and educational programs and write grants.
"We've got a very engaged, responsive community, as far as their care of the land," Brotman said.
They have more than 200 registered volunteers who logged over 1,200 hours working in the park last year.
"On the physical plant level, we have done quite a bit of trail-building, invasive species removal where that's a problem for native plants," Brotman said.
The park was assembled from three parcels of land: two that were donated by the town of Woodstock and a private landowner, and one that the state purchased from the Massanutten Military Academy, where they ran Camp Lupton.
"That was my summer camp when I was a boy … which was formative for me in my connections with nature and recreation in the outdoors," Brotman said.
A clipping from a 1936 news article that was posted in the Facebook group "Abandoned in Shenandoah County - Virginia" reads that the boys' summer camp opened June 29 that year, and offered water sports, horseback riding, athletic fields, and handicrafts, with "the advantages of working and playing with a group of clean, manly associates."
Brotman noted how pleased he was that the site of the camp will now be preserved for future generations to enjoy, such as the North Fork Conservation Corps — a program for local teens to do service projects, learn, and play in the park.
"They can canoe, kayak, fly fish … but we also bring them out in the woods where they can learn about trees and wildlife and all sorts of aspects of nature … Those teens, in the first year of the program, helped clear vegetation that had grown up around those old Woodstock reservoirs … one of the two of them is a mysterious-looking old stone structure out in the middle of the woods, halfway up the mountain … that is where the town used to catch its water off the mountain and pipe it over into town," Brotman said.
As I found out from the Woodstock town manager, both of the reservoirs are well over a hundred years old, having been built in 1901 and 1910, respectively. Ancient structures hidden in the woods sounded too cool for me to pass up, so I set out on a mission to find these reservoirs on Wednesday afternoon.
If you can survive the very steep initial ascent of the Pawpaw Hollow Trail and keep trekking for another mile and a half or so, through ferns and sun-baked pines and wild blueberry bushes, you come to the Woodstock reservoirs – two big basins made of stone tucked into the mountainside. One of them is empty, but the other is full of water, and life.
If you listen very closely, you can hear what sounds like water dripping — it's actually tons and tons of big, fat tadpoles coming up to the surface of the pond.
The park's master plan notes that gray treefrogs and green frogs are among the park's amphibious residents — of which there are many. The forested parts of Seven Bends are classified as an "outstanding" area of ecological integrity — the highest rating attainable under the Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation's natural landscape assessment.
Some sections of the park that have traditionally been farmed for corn, soybeans and hay are slated to be developed as demonstration fields for best agricultural practices when cultivating beside a river. The stretch of the North Fork of the Shenandoah River within the park is also part of the 8.8 miles that were designated as a Virginia Scenic River in April.