VNPS Summer Field Trips

VNPS Mountain Lake Area and Cypress Bridge Field Trips

Johnny Townsend, Natural Heritage Botanist, member of the VNPS board of directors and a co-author of The Flora of Virginia, will lead a two-day field trip for VNPS members in the Mountain Lake area on July 31 and August 1. This adventure will be somewhat challenging as we’ll be walking on rough and rocky trails with some climbing at elevations near 4000 ft. Participants should be strong and comfortable with walking at least four miles, likely walking and standing for several hours each day.

As a result of geologically recent glacial activity, natural lakes are common in the northern Appalachians. However, Virginia’s Mountain Lake is the only natural lake in the southern Appalachians and one of only two natural lakes in the state. The mountains, cool streams, bogs, and dense forests surrounding Mountain Lake are a naturalist’s playground. With vast acreages of public land – most of it managed for outdoor recreation, natural resource protection, and scientific study – the region hosts a wide array of possibilities for the visiting enthusiast. Pitch pine bogs, towering waterfalls, and foggy mountain peaks mark changes in altitude and habitat from flat stream valleys to the ridgeline of Salt Pond Mountain (4,361 ft.).

Mountain Lake Biological Station (MLBS), our home base for the trip, lies within a
stone’s throw of Mountain Lake itself, providing the ideal jumping off point for activities in the area. MLBS is a first-class research and teaching facility operated by the University of Virginia; it was established in 1930.

Some possibilities for botanical exploration include:

Salt Pond and Potts Mountain areas: Numerous trails, including several beginning on MLBS property, traverse hardwood forests, Rhododendron thickets, bogs, and dramatic rock outcrops, forming a large network of opportunities. The Appalachian Trail also crosses nearby and can be accessed easily for further exploration of these high mountain ridges.

Stony Creek ~Photo credit VA Dept Conservation and Rec

Stony Creek ~Photo credit VA Dept Conservation and Recreation

The Cascades: Four miles of trails leading to and from this dramatic 70-foot waterfall follow Little Stony Creek through a progressively gorge-like area which is well known to botanists, in no small part due to its high diversity of mosses and liverworts. Some of these diminutive species are only known in Virginia from the cool, moist microclimate of the Cascades. A broad array of montane plants can be found here.
More information on the location.

Boggy lowlands: Several areas with saturated soils and vegetation more reminiscent of northern bogs can be found just a short drive away. Bentley’s Coralroot (Corallorhiza bentleyi): This saprophytic orchid should be in bloom during our stay. It was only recently discovered and named (in 1999), and is known only from a handful of counties in Virginia and neighboring West Virginia. The subtle reddish-and-yellowish coloration of this orchid makes it a difficult one to find among the leaf litter. As far as scientists know,its closest relative is found in the mountains of Mexico.

The Lake: Within easy hiking range of MLBS but owned by the Mountain Lake Lodge, the lake has garnered some fascinating press in recent years due to its dramatically lowered water levels. Similar drops in lake level have been documented before via firsthand accounts and from evidence provided in the lake bed itself. Hydrologic factors controlling water levels in the lake are incompletely known; the natural fissures which provide at least some drainage for the lake were filled in 2013 in hopes of restoring the lake’s water levels, but the vast majority of the lake bed remains exposed.

Participants will need to arrive by late afternoon on Thursday, July 30, so that two full days in the field are possible. Housing will be in dormitories or cottages with limited availability for single rooms. Bunk beds are typical and baths may be shared by up to three people. Participants will need to bring their own bedding, pillows, sheets, blankets and/or sleeping bags, towels and toiletries. Conveniently all are required to join in the dining plan where three meals per day are served with an option for a field lunch. Some accommodations have electric heat, while others rely on fireplaces with firewood provided. Cooking is permitted only in cottages with kitchenettes which are not likely to be available. This all may sound a bit rustic but, if you love mountains and field botany, this may be a very special opportunity for you. To learn more about the place and the accommodations, visit the station website.

To register, please email Karen York at the VNPS office,, on Tuesday, May 5. Space is limited and the first 13 to contact Karen on that day will be accepted. In attempt to give many a fair chance, messages sent before May 5 will not be accepted. In your message, please indicate if you are reserving for more than one person. Within a week of your reservation’s acceptance, payment of $200 must be sent to the VNPS office. (This payment covers all fees, three nights lodging and nine meals.) If needed, a wait list will be maintained. However, in case of cancellations, full refunds will only be available if we are able to fill your space.

If you have questions, please contact Shirley Gay,

Cypress Bridge Swamp Natural Area Preserve

Do you love big trees? Want to visit some of Virginia’s biggest with a local naturalist who has certified numerous big trees? Mark your calendars for October 10 when VNPS has scheduled a field trip to Cypress Bridge Swamp Natural Area Preserve with Byron Carmean, who really knows the area and its trees. Learn more about ByronCypress Bridge Swamp Natural Area Preserve has as its core 37 acres of virgin old growth forest and is home to some of the biggest trees in Virginia. For more information on the location: Cypress Bridge Natural Area.

Details and registration will be available in August with first option for participation given to those whose trip was cancelled during the VNPS 2014 Annual Meeting. However, we should be able to accommodate at least 10 additional participants.

Want More Field Trips?

VNPS field trips are very popular, but, unfortunately, spaces are limited and making arrangements can be challenging. If you have ideas for trips, please consider taking part in organizing an event. To offer help contact Nancy Vehrs or Shirley Gay .

And of course, everyone’s invited to our 2015 Annual Meeting in Staunton,
September 11 -13. 
Field trips will be centered in the Great Valley of Virginia. Set the date aside, hope to see you there!