Elizabeth A.S. Brooke

Crafting, traveling and everything in between.

Big Survey Wildlife Management Area, Wytheville, Va.

A few weeks ago, we checked out Big Survey Wildlife Management Area, which is a fairly new addition to the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries’ land. It’s located of Interstates 77/81 near Wytheville, Va.

We parked at the trail head of High Rocks Trail and hiked about 1.5 miles to the top of a hill, which overlooks Wytheville.

The trail has a fairly moderate incline. I was proud of myself, as a person with asthma, for making it up the trail without having to pause for breath.

The top of the trail had an awesome view.

Beware, though, the trail is covered with big rocks, so it is easy to lose your footing. It reminded me of walking in the middle of a intermittent spring. Luckily, it had not rained recently so the moss and rocks were not wet.

Though the rocks didn’t get me on the way up, I did fall on the way down!

So, if you’ve got little ones, I’d think twice about taking them on this trail. There was a man with a little boy (maybe 8-years-old) on the trail when we were there, but the kid was well-behaved and didn’t attempt to run ahead. They took their time picking among the rocks and made it to the top in time to enjoy a nice picnic lunch around noon.

Here’s some photos from the trip:

A blueberry bush.
A bench to rest on at the end of the trail.

Mill Mountain Zoo, Roanoke, Va.

Mill Mountain Zoo, Roanoke, Va., is probably the smallest zoo I’ve ever been to. And it’s accredited!

We visited recently on a Christmas shopping excursion to the city. I really enjoyed the colorful pheasants, the marmosets and wolverine. Very cool.

Many of the exhibits were closed because of the windy and cool conditions. We paid just over $7 for one adult, which seems to be a lot for a small zoo.

Here’s some photos:

Blue Magpie
Golden pheasant — one of my favorites!
Pygmy goat
Snow leopard

Japanese Macaque

Eurasian black vulture — a huge fella!

Sichuan Takin

Black-eared tufted marmoset. I wanted to cuddle with them!
I believe these are white-napped cranes.

Since we have a N.C. Zoo membership, we got in half price. (The N.C. Zoo is huge and a great weekend activity for the family. Check it out if you’re down that way.)

While on top of Mill Mountain, check out the Mill Mountain Star, the Star Trail and The Discovery Center. There are no photos of the Star Trail below. We didn’t walk on the trail that day, but we’ve done it before.

You can see this star from most areas in Roanoke.

Here’s a view from atop Mill Mountain. The star is located behind the photographer in this shot.

A snake in The Discovery Center. I don’t know why Chris insists on snapping photos of snakes!

At the bottom of the mountain, check out the Chestnut Ridge Trail. We walked there for a bit and it was a great walk, even for the cool, windy day we were there. It’s 5.4 miles, but we walked about 2.5 miles, cutting through a campground and walking down along the road to get back to the parking lot.

I’m checking out the map to decide which way to go. I’m bundled up, but was still cold in the wind.

A shot of the road as we crossed it along the trail.

Some Roanoke County, Va., trails

Chris, Sidney and I spent Memorial Day Weekend wandering around trails and parks of Virginia. We originally planned to camp at Pipestem Resort State Park, W.Va., but sites were booked up. Other, closer Virginia parks were booked up too. So we settled for a couple of day trips.

The first day we explored four parks around Roanoke County, Va., using the Virgina Birding and Wildlife Trail book. A friend gave this to us as a gift a couple of years ago. Newer versions may have different or more trails.

The trail we used to make one of our day trips was the Roanoke Valley  Loop. You can view it online here. We followed each stop, using the directions given by the book. We did skip a sports complex, but we wanted to get to some of the other stops before it got dark.
Roanoke River Greenway
First off we started with the Roanoke River Greenway at Green Hill Park. It’s toward the end of the Roanoke Valley Loop. There, we walked along a 0.8 mile-long, paved trail. It appeared there was a soccer match going on, so we met a lot of people on and along the trail.

Though the walk was a short one we did see butterflies and hear several birds. The greenway will eventually link up with parts of the trail in the City of Roanoke and Salem and other areas of Roanoke County. A site for this part of the greenway said it’ll eventually be 30 miles long.

Since the trail is paved and relatively flat, this is a perfect jaunt for everyone. Some photos:

Poor Mountain Natural Area
Next up was the Poor Mountain Natural Area. Though signs and the book said the trail was only 0.25 miles long, it’s already been expanded and makes for a very nice walk. I guessed it may already be about a mile long. That includes an orange-marked, loop trail and a portion of a blue trail that’s not yet complete.

There’s supposed to be something called “piratebush” located on the site, but Chris and I couldn’t figure out which plant it might be.

This area is moderate in elevation, but the trail isn’t paved. So it’s not a hike for everyone. Anyone physically able and ages 5 and up will enjoy this hike.

Happy Hollow Gardens
Next was Happy Hollow Gardens. This is a small park — 34 acres according to the site.

There wasn’t much to it, but makes for a pleasant day trip. I was looking forward to seeing the azalea garden, but it was just a small grove of poor looking azaleas. I don’t think those poor shrubs were helped by the little boy beating them and trees with a stick. I wondered where his parents were and why they weren’t controlling their little vandal.

The trails on the property are pretty easy to walk. There’s a few to choose from and all are short. They’re not paved, so aren’t handicap accessible. Anyone with respiratory problems would handle the trails just fine.

I liked walking through the woods and listening to the little stream that flows by the parking lot. It would make a nice day trip during migrating season to listen and watch for birds.

Bent Mountain Elementary
The final stop on the tour ended at Bent Mountain Elementary’s birding area. I think this was Chris’ favorite stop of the day. We saw the most birds of the day in this little schoolyard — sparrows, red wing black birds and tree swallows.

Chris insisted on walking around the yard three times, including a short boardwalk that a Boy Scout built into an adjoining wetland.

We also met one of the school’s friendly neighbors — a man that lived up the street and his two cute dogs. We enjoyed talking with him and visiting the school. A photo of a birdhouse and meadow behind the school:

Sadly, we read recently that the school is closing. It’s always sad when a community school closes. I worry what will happen to the little birding area and the public library that was housed in the building too.

I hope the county or school will at least maintain the building (I’m not sure who owns the property, the school board or county) and keep it as a community center and library.

Side note: We ended our day with a meal at Nawab in the City of Roanoke. The best Indian food ever! (I admit, though, I’ve not eaten at many Indian restaurants so I don’t have much to compare it to.)
You can buy a copy of the Virginia Birding and Wildlife Trail book here and at Amazon:

This book is really useful in planning day hikes and trips. You will probably want a state map as a second resource to use in case you want to skip some of the stops on the loops. That way you can plan a different route.

Some other books birders may be interested in:


And, for identification:

We have “National Audubon Society Field Guild of Birds,” “Newcomb’s Wildflower Guide” and “National Audubon Society Field Guild of Wildflowers.” I recommend all three.

Newcomb’s can be a little tough to use, but if I can’t find it in the Audubon book, I can usually locate it there.

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