By Glynn Wilson
MARION, Va. – Listening to a babbling brook and watching the snow flakes gently fall in one of Mother Nature’s most beautiful acts, I am pondering the legend of the hungry mother who inspired the name of this place along the Hungry Mother Creek.
As the story goes, back during the pioneer days and the so-called Indian Wars, a tribe of Native Americans attacked settlements along the New River southeast of here, kidnapping a settler named Molly Marley and her young child. Somehow she managed to escape with her baby and to survive for awhile in the woods eating berries and such. But Marley grew weak and passed out, so the child wandered off and followed the creek, eventually making it back to a settlement camp. Traumatized and too young to say much, the only words the child could utter were, “hungry mother.”
A search party was sent out to find Marley, but they found her dead at the foot of a mountain now called Molly’s Knob. Later the creek followed by the child was named Hungry Mother Creek.
One of the reasons I am thinking about this is because I like camping here. It’s about as close to a half way point between Birmingham, Alabama, and Washington, D.C. as you can get. So whenever I travel this way, it’s a good place to stop for the night to break up what would otherwise be a 12 to 13 hour drive.
But the other reason I’m thinking about it is the state of the economy. There are millions of hungry mothers out there now, and there should be some things we could do for them rather than leaving them to the wilds of run amok corporate capitalism. A society and a people ought to be judged on the way people treat the least among them. I think the Christian bible and other religious texts have had something to say to that effect over the centuries. I’m wondering how religion got turned around and used as a hammer against poor people in American politics over the past three decades. I guess some people are just selfish.
Meanwhile back to the forest.
When I noticed on the Google map that this place lies in the Jefferson National Forest, I had to know more. So I looked it up.
The Jefferson National Forest, formed on April 21, 1936 by combining portions of the Unaka and George Washington National Forests with other land, is said to be “prized Appalachia country,” with tumbling waterfalls, rare wildflowers, vividly colored hills and Virginia’s highest peak. It contains 690,000 acres of protected hardwood and conifer forest across west-central Virginia, West Virginia and Kentucky, including the Ridge Province of the Blue Ridge Mountains.
In 1995 it was combined administratively with the George Washington National Forest. The border between the two forests roughly follows the James River. Together they form one of the largest areas of public land in the Eastern United States, covering 1.8 million acres in the Appalachian Mountains of Virginia, West Virginia and Kentucky.
About 1 million acres are remote and undeveloped and 139,461 acres have been designated as wilderness areas, prohibiting future development. There are about 230,000 acres of old-growth forests here. Locations of old growth include Peters Mountain, Mount Pleasant National Scenic Area, Rich Hole Wilderness, Flannery Ridge, Pick Breeches Ridge, and Laurel Fork Gorge, Pickem Mountain and Mount Rogers National Recreation Area. The Ramsey’s Draft and Kimberling Creek Wildernesses in particular are mostly old-growth.
Virginia’s highest point, Mount Rogers, lies in the forest in the Mount Rogers National Recreation Area. Other notable mountains include Elliott Knob, which has one of the last remaining fire lookout towers in the eastern U.S., and Whitetop Mountain. The forest is also home to the deepest gorge east of the Mississippi River, Breaks Interstate Park.
The forests’ vast and mountainous terrain harbors a great variety of plant life, more than 50 species of trees and 2,000 species of shrubs and herbaceous plants.
The black bear is relatively common here, enough so that there is a short hunting season to prevent overpopulation. White-tailed deer, bobcat, bald eagles, weasel, otter, and marten are also known to inhabit the forest.
It also includes Virginia’s top five trout streams.
Every type of outdoor recreation activity you can imagine is available. In addition to camping, hiking, fishing and hunting, there is mountain biking, cross-country skiing, horseback riding, bird watching and of course nature photography.
Whether you are driving a back-country road, enjoying glorious fall colors, using binoculars to spot colorful neo tropical birds, or savoring the peacefulness of wilderness, remember that national forests are special places.
Unfortunately, The Washington-Jefferson national forests are also being considered as a location for fracking for methane gas, despite fears that it could threaten the cleanliness of the Potomac River, the sole source of drinking water for more than 4 million people in and around the nation’s capital. Critics worry that toxic chemicals could leak or spill during the mining or in the disposal afterward of vast amounts of waste fluids.
It doesn’t help that the drilling companies won’t disclose all of the chemicals they shoot into the ground. They say that’s a commercial secret. It also doesn’t help that fracking is exempted from meeting some standards of the Safe Drinking Water Act. That’s known as the “Halliburton loophole,” in honor of the giant oil field services company once headed by Dick Cheney. He was vice president in 2005 when the provision was adopted.
The George Washington forest case is critical mainly because of an accident of timing. The forest is about to adopt a new, 15-year management plan. So the decision could influence what happens in other national forests.
Technically, a U.S. Forest Service regional official in Atlanta will make the choice. The matter is so politically sensitive that either the Agriculture Department, which oversees the Forest Service, or the White House will decide, according to the Washington Post.
Long a family favorite known for beautiful woodlands and a placid 108-acre lake in the heart of the mountains, the Hungry Mother State Park has a sandy beach with a bathhouse, a fishing pier, a boat launch and boats that can used for fishing, canoeing, kayaking or simply paddling around.
© 2014, Glynn Wilson. All rights reserved.