The Blue Ridge Center developed a long-term plan for our land's stewardship after a comprehensive, two year ecological and conservation study. If you'd like to "read deep" about our land management philosophy, download our Conservation Management Plan.
Explore the sections below to learn more about the land and nature being preserved at the Blue Ridge Center:
The Blue Ridge Center sits on the westernmost edge of the Piedmont region of northern Virginia, at the narrowing north end of a valley known as "Between the Hills." The land is 20 miles from both Leesburg, VA and Frederick, MD, and 2 miles south of Harpers Ferry, WV, where the Potomac and Shenandoah Rivers converge.
To the west, the Blue Ridge rises to roughly 1,000 feet and is capped by the Appalachian National Scenic Trail. To the east, the property ends at Virginia Route 671, a road that runs the valley floor north-to-south. Further east is Short Hill Mountain.
The lands of the Blue Ridge Center include young recovering upland forest, wetlands, bottomland, meadows, farmland, ponds, and streams. Upland areas are rugged with rocky outcrops. Several springs originate within the property and drain into Sweet Run and Piney Run, which in turn empty into the Potomac River. Elevations on the land range from 500 feet to 1,000 feet above sea level. The underlying valley geology consists of hornblende gneiss.
The farmland portion of the property has, for decades, been planted in corn and soy beans after a much longer history as a dairy farm. Some parts of the upland forest were logged as recently as 1995, and these areas are laced with a network of haul roads. The ridgeline section of the land has remained untouched since being logged in the 1800s, and consists of a maturing oak-poplar forest.
The woodlands are rich with life, with many native species of trees, shrubs, and wildflowers. Having been introduced intentionally or accidentally, invasive species such as garlic mustard and multiflora rose are intermixed with native plants.
The Blue Ridge Center is located in the Potomac Watershed, a region covering more than 14,670 square miles. The Potomac River is 383 miles long and breaks through the Blue Ridge Mountains at Harpers Ferry. This is where Piney Run, which drains the land of the Blue Ridge Center, empties into the river at Potomac Wayside, downriver from Harpers Ferry.
Piney Run is fed by one major tributary, Sweet Run, which drains from the Blue Ridge's eastern ridgeline. Both Piney Run and Sweet Run are remarkably diverse and are inhabited by numerous species of fish. A smaller, unnamed seasonal run drains west from Short Hill Mountain and converges with Piney Run on our land. A variety of seeps, perennial springs, and seasonal streams feed Piney Run and its tributaries.
The streams, ponds, and wetlands of the Blue Ridge Center host a large number of reptiles and amphibians, including the Virginia-listed threatened wood turtle. The range of water habitats also ensures insect and bird diversity. Good water quality is essential to healthy ecological systems. Industrial pollutants, agricultural and residential runoff, septic system leakage and acid rain can all contribute to water quality decline. The Blue Ridge Center waterways benefit from regular monitoring, sampling, and testing by a number of our educational partners.
Geology first shaped the land at the Blue Ridge Center. Topography, rocks, soils, and drainage help determine the nature of ecological systems and the unfolding patterns of human exploration, settlement, and land use. The Blue Ridge Center's research explores the interrelated web of geological, environmental, and human forces that have shaped ongoing relationships on our land.
The land of the Blue Ridge Center is part of the Harpers Ferry quadrangle, covering a portion of the Blue Ridge-South Mountain area. Elevations range from 500 ft. on the eastern edge to nearly 1,000 ft. atop the ridgeline.
The Blue Ridge consists of up-thrust belts of rock that have been subjected to intense metamorphic deformation, and a bedrock of sandstone, metabasalt, and gneiss underlies the Blue Ridge Center property. Through time, these materials erode, sloughing off the main ridges in blocks and plates. The western half of our property, as a result, is composed of steep ledges surrounded by immense fields of jagged boulders. The thin rocky soils of these upland zones give way to the richer top soils in the bottomland and riparian environment found along Piney Run.
The Blue Ridge Mountain's oldest rock is Proterozoic gneiss and igneous intrusives that have been intensively folded and faulted. As in many places along the Blue Ridge, this crushed and distorted older rock is thrust-faulted up and over younger rock. Ancient layered bedrock outcrops can be seen in northern Virginia and on South Mountain in Maryland. Both the summit of South Mountain and the Blue Ridge of Virginia are composed mostly of quartzite and greenstone.
Visit the U.S. Geological Survey website for maps and reports on lands surrounding the Blue Ridge Center.
In our region, the present climate is temperate with four distinct seasons. Virginia's average temperature varies from 36 degrees Fahrenheit during winter months, to mid 50's in spring and fall, to mid 70's in summer. Virginia's average annual total precipitation is 44 inches. The state's average annual snowfall varies form 9 to 27 inches, all according to the Virginia Climatology Office.
This temperate climate, with its balance of hot and cold, wet and dry weather, largely determines our region's flora and fauna. It prevents the 900 acres at the Blue Ridge Center from turning into searing desert, rainforest, or frigid tundra. Oaks and hickories, white-tail deer, black bears (and local humans, for that matter) have all adapted themselves well to living in Virginia's temperate zone.
However, the moderate climate we take for granted today is very different from our region's past climates. Over the last few million years, climate conditions in Virginia have ranged from the subtropical to the sub-arctic. Flora and fauna appropriate to those ancient climates evolved on the landscape during each of those climactic periods. For example, cold-loving mastodons probably roamed Loudoun county at the height of the last Ice Age, just 18,000 years ago.
Climate is so powerful in the long term that it actually counteracts the gargantuan mountain building forces of geology. In Loudoun county, for example, climate acting over millions of years whittled away the ancient Appalachian Mountain chain, cutting down what some scientists say were 30,000 foot peaks (as high as today's Himalayans) to the current size of the Blue Ridge in northern Virginia undefined just over 1,000 feet above sea level.
Fifteen distinct habitats have been surveyed at the Blue Ridge Center, ranging from a maturing chestnut oak ridgetop forest, to young recovering upland and riparian forests.
Loudoun county is in a transitional zone, and our land represents a rich mix of northern and southern trees. The primary forest community type on the property is the mixed mesophytic forest, with tulip poplar, a variety of oaks, and maples and hickory types numbering among the dominant tree species. Common understory species include slippery elm, beech, dogwood, and redbud. The typical shrub layer includes spice bush, blackberry, with some mountain laurel. Bottomland is inhabited by typical wetland species such as sycamore and buttonbush. Wildflowers identified include naked leaved pink trefoil and velvet leaf.
Numbering among the most common invasive plants are ailanthus (tree of heaven), Chinese sumac, white mulberry, Japanese honeysuckle, garlic mustard, barberry, multiflora rose, and spotted knapweed.
The table below inventories the flora and fauna at the Blue Ridge Center:
|Botanical/Vegetative Baseline Inventory|
|* denotes non-native species|
|Christmas Fern||Polystichum acrostichoides|
|Norway Spruce*||Picea abies|
|Virginia Pine||Pinus virginiana|
|White Pine||Pinus strobus|
|Eastern Hemlock||Tsuga canadensis|
|Dicot Trees, Shrubs & Woody Vines|
|Norway Maple*||Acer platanoides|
|Red Maple||Acer rubrum|
|Silver Maple||Acer saccharinum|
|Hazel Alder||Alnus serrulata|
|Pignut Hickory||Carya glabra|
|Flowering Dogwood||Cornus florida|
|American Beech||Fagus grandifolia|
|White Ash||Fraxinus americana|
|Common Witchhazel||Hamamelis virginiana|
|Black Walnut||Juglans nigra|
|Mountain Laurel||Kalmia latifolia|
|Tulip Poplar||Liriodendron tulipifera|
|White Mulberry||Morus alba|
|Japanese Honeysuckle*||Lonicera japonica|
|Scentless Mock Orange||Philadelphus inodorus|
|Eastern Sycamore||Platanus occidentalis|
|Black Cherry||Prunus serotina|
|White Oak||Quercus alba|
|Chestnut Oak||Quercus montana|
|Staghorn Sumac||Rhus typhina|
|Black Locust||Robinia pseudoacacia|
|Carolina Rose||Rosa carolina|
|Multiflora Rose*||Rosa multiflora|
|Black Raspberry||Rubus sp.|
|American Basswood||Tilia americana|
|Slippery Elm||Ulmus americana|
|Lowbush Blueberry||Vaccinium vacillans|
|Not yet inventoried
|Velvet Leaf||Abutilon theophrasti|
|Garlic Mustard*||Alliaria officinalis|
|Wild Onion*||Allium stellatum|
|Scarlet Pimpernal||Anagallis arvensis|
|Common Milkweed||Asclepias syriaca|
|Poke Milkweed||Asclepias exaltata|
|Wild Sensitive-plant||Cassia nictitans|
|Spotted Knapweed*||Centaurea maculosa|
|Spotted Wintergreen||Chimaphila maculata|
|Ox-eyed Daisy||Chrysanthemum leucanthemum|
|Bull Thistle*||Cirsium vulgare|
|Asiatic Dayflower*||Commelina communis|
|Field Bindweed||Convulvulus arvensis|
|Queen Anne's Lace*||Daucus carota|
|Naked-leaved Pink Trefoil||Desmodium nudiflorum|
|Deptford Pink*||Dianthus armeria|
|Wild Yam||Dioscorea villosa|
|Indian Strawberry*||Duchesnea indica|
|Common Fleabane||Erigeron philadelphicos|
|Common Strawberry||Fragaria virginiana|
|Cranesbill Geranium||Geranium sp.|
|Rough Avens||Geum virginianum|
|Bowman's Root||Gillenia trifoliate|
|Ground Ivy*||Glechoma hederacea|
|King Devil||Hieracium pratense|
|Dwarf St. John's Wort||Hypericum mutilum|
|Ivy-Leaved Morning-Glory||Ipomoea hederacea|
|Wild Potato Vine||Ipomoea pandurata|
|Blue Lettuce||Lactuca sp.|
|Butter and Eggs*||Linaria vulgaris|
|Great Lobelia||Lobelia siphilitica|
|Indian Tobacco||Lobelia inflata|
|White Sweet Clover*||Melilotus alba|
|Yellow Sweet Clover*||Melilotus officinalis|
|Sharp-winged Monkey Flower||Mimulus alatus|
|Indian Pipe||Monotropa uniflora|
|Common Evening-Primrose||Oenothera biennis|
|Yellow Wood Sorrel||Oxalis stricta|
|Foxglove Beardtongue||Penstemon digitalis|
|Garden Phlox||Phlox paniculata|
|Common Plantain||Plantago major|
|Halberd-leaved Tearthumb||Polygonum arifolium|
|Lady's Thumb Smartweed||Polygonum persicaria|
|Strawberry Weed*||Potentilla norvegica|
|Rough-fruited Cinquefoil||Potentilla recta|
|Common Cinquefoil||Potentilla simplex|
|Black-eyed Susan||Rudbeckia hirta|
|Thin-leaved Sunflower||Rudbeckia triloba|
|Bouncing Bet||Saponaria officinalis|
|Wild Basil||Satureja vulgaris|
|Showy Skullcap||Scutellaria serrata|
|Blue-eyed Grass||Sisyrinchium sp.|
|Horse Nettle||Solanum carolinense|
|Spiny-leaved Sow Thistle||Sonchus asper|
|Venus's Looking Glass||Specularia perfoliata|
|Skunk Cabbage||Symplocarpus foetidus|
|Common Dandelion||Taraxacum officinale|
|Virginia Knotweed||Tovara virginiana|
|Hop Clover||Trifolium agrarium|
|Red Clover||Trifolium pratense|
|Smaller Hop Clover||Trifolium procumbens|
|White Clover||Trifolium repens|
|Stinging Nettle||Urtica dioica|
|Common Mullien||Verbascum thapsus|
|White Vervain||Verbena urticifolia|