So I read this story online about how Madison county contains more of Shenandoah National Park than any other county but it doesn’t have an official entrance into the park. In 1929, President Hoover promised it would get an entrance.
And, according to County Administrator Ernie Hoch, it would be rather easy for the Madison to get an entrance. There is already a road that leads to the park, but at the end of it, there is a locked gate. All Madison really needs is the key, says Hoch. One key and the tourist dollars would start flowing in.
Early one Saturday morning, I figured I would find the gate, park my Camry and go for a run. A few miles beyond the entrance was supposed to be Rapidan Camp, sometimes called Camp Hoover. It is a retreat for U.S. presidents, although it hasn’t been used since the Carter Administration. It seemed like a perfect plan.
So I followed the directions I read in the story as best I could. It led me to a picturesque country road. The country road started getting narrower. And then it turned to dirt. As it started to creep up the side of a mountain, I passed a signed that said “End of State Maintenance.” That should have been my clue. I should’ve shifted into reverse. I should’ve found another place to run.
Instead, I figured the magic gate was right around the next bend. Well, maybe the next bend. OK, maybe just one more bend. The farther I went, the worse the road got. Small craters. Speed bumps made of jagged rocks. Icy puddles. It was more than my Camry was built to endure. But I had gone too far. Reversing out was no longer an option. And the road was too narrow to do a 180.
I slowly continued on. After a couple of nerve-racking miles where I felt as if I could roll off the hill at any second, I found a small clearing that had room to park and turn around. Across from the clearing was a sign that said “Shenandoah National Park.” I figured I would go ahead and get my run in before making my way back down the mountain.
I ran along the hilly road for a little more than a mile and a half before turning back. I never came across the gate or Rapidan Camp. Maybe the gate was just around the bend when I turned around. Or maybe I had the wrong road. But if I did have the right road, Madison County would need a lot more than just a key to get an entrance to the park. They would need a much better road. And some signage.
Shenandoah National Park, touching a total of eight counties, consists of nearly 200,000 acres of forests along the Blue Ridge Mountains. It was established in 1926. The popular Skyline Drive runs through the park.
Madison County, with a population of about 13,000 and formed in 1792, is named after the Madison family. They owned land in the county along the Rapidan River. James Madison, the fourth U.S. President, is a descendent of the family, although he was actually born in King George County.
Just to the south of the Madison is Greene County, named after Revolutionary War hero Nathaniel Greene, although I couldn’t find any ties between him and the county. It bills itself as a “Gateway to” area. The economic development Web site is called “Gateway to Charlottesville” and I saw other references to “Gateway to Shenandoah Park.” Greene has an official entrance to the park.
I had a tough time finding a place to run in Greene County, ultimately ending up at a community park. While the small trail through the woods is popular with the nearby animal shelter, the park’s big draw is a rather elaborate disc (i.e. Frisbee) golf course. On the cold Saturday, nobody was playing golf, so I did a lap around every nook of the course and two around the trail.
36 runs down, 98 to go.
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