Hickory Hollow Trail Head (2)

For the past several years, the Northern Neck Chapters of the National Audubon Society (NNAS), Virginia Native Plant Society (NNNPS) and the Virginia Master Naturalists (NNMN) have sponsored a New Year’s Day walk at Hickory Hollow Natural Area Preserve in Lancaster County. Longtime NNNPS member, Nick Ferriter and his wife Jackie, started this walk several years ago and a few years back, the NNNPS began offering guided walks to the public to get people outside and welcome in the New Year with nature. Led by knowledgeable NNNPS members, the walks became a well-attended adventure for all.

A walk in the woods at Hickory Hollow is a delightful way to welcome the New Year and what better place than in one of the four Natural Area Preserves in the Northern Neck. This walk is held on New Year’s Day every year, in part to get the members and public outside in nature.  Little did anyone know that this year’s pandemic would make getting outside even more welcoming, but just not in a group.

“Sadly, we cannot accommodate for an open-to-the-public walk this coming New Year’s Day”, said Kevin Howe, Past President of NNNPS, Vice President of NNAS and one of the “tour guides” for the walk. “But we have an alternative plan,” Howe said. A virtual guided walk with pictures and maps has been prepared and posted on the NNAS Chapter’s website so that anyone can take their own walk on New Year’s Day or thereafter. So, put on your walking shoes and head out for adventure.

Hickory Hollow, off Rt. 3 just south of Lancaster, is perfect for a walk in the woods anytime but especially during the the first few weeks of January because the earliest blooming native plant, Skunk Cabbage, is often in bloom at this time. “This plant is one of the very few plants that can produce its own heat enabling it to rise above the cold earth or even snow-covered ground,” said Howe. Everyone can now review the walk online, then take their own walk to discover this intriguing plant as well as other unique features of the Hickory Hollow Preserve.

The 254 acres at Hickory Hollow is one of the 65 Virginia Natural Area Preserves, all of which were created and protected, because they contain some of the rarest ecological communities and unique species habitats in North America. Hickory Hollow fits that definition well as it contains several rare plant communities including one of the very few globally rare natural communities known as a “coastal plain calcareous seepage swamp” which supports a high level of biological diversity. It contains some plants found nowhere else in Virginia but in Lancaster County.

Established in 2000, Hickory Hollow is owned by Audubon (NNAS) but managed by the Virginia Dept of Conservation and Recreation. The land of Hickory Hollow first appears historically in a deed description in 1780. In 1877, Lancaster County purchased the land to use as the Poor Farm for homeless and destitute members of the county. The farm closed in 1905 and then used for timber with the last harvest around 1970. In the late 1990’s, the county considered the land as a potential site for an industrial park which would have destroyed the unique ecological treasure. Public opposition was strong and with support from members of the NNAS and the public, the county agreed to look elsewhere for a site. NNAS realized the site could only be protected in perpetuity though purchase and conservation easement protection. Partially through NNAS funds and partially with grant funds from the Virginia Land Conservation Fund, the land was purchased from the county. A contract with the Virginia Dept of Conservation and Recreation helps Audubon members manage the site with the goal of protection of the globally rare ecological community therein.

The Hickory Hollow Virtual Guided Walk can be found at: https://northernneckaudubon.squarespace.com