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Historical Context

Layers of Human History on The Mountain

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Why Hills & Hollows?

The hills and hollows around the ridges and valleys that became Shenandoah National Park have shaped the lives of people for generations. A hollow is a small valley or depression in a mountain that usually has a waterway, and mountain communities tended to grow up in these spaces. The term has been colloquially pronounced holler or hollar since the 1600s. The land of Shenandoah National Park is sometimes referred to as "The Mountain" by communities that were displaced.


The Shenandoah Valley is a region of the "Great (Appalachian) Valley" or "Ridge and Valley" corridor that stretches from Quebec to Alabama, a passageway of human movement for thousands of years. It is bounded on the east by the Blue Ridge (and Shenandoah National Park), and to the west by the higher Allegheny Range. The Blue Ridge Hills & Hollows bikepacking route explores the interconnected relationships between mountain topography and the people who have called this place home. 

Shenandoah National Park & Skyline Drive

Established in 1935, Shenandoah National Park encompasses over 200,000 acres of protected lands along the crest of the Blue Ridge Mountains on the eastern boundary of the Shenandoah Valley. The park is renowned for its diverse ecosystems, scenic beauty, and recreational opportunities. A portion of the Appalachian Trail, the famous long-distance hiking trail that extends from Georgia to Maine, passes through the park. Shenandoah National Park offers visitors a chance to explore a plethora of outdoor activities, including hiking, camping, wildlife observation, and stargazing. The park is characterized by its lush forests, waterfalls, and panoramic views of the Shenandoah Valley to the west and the Piedmont to the east.


Skyline Drive is a scenic highway that runs the entire length of Shenandoah National Park, covering approximately 105 miles. The drive winds along the mountaintops, providing stunning vistas of the surrounding landscapes. There are 75 overlooks along the Skyline Drive, offering opportunities for visitors to pull over and enjoy breathtaking views of the Blue Ridge Mountains and the Shenandoah Valley. The drive is particularly popular in the fall when the changing foliage creates a vibrant display of autumn hues. Skyline Drive is a key feature of Shenandoah National Park, offering a convenient way for visitors to experience the natural beauty of the region from the comfort of their vehicles or by stopping at various points of interest along the route. 


The Blue Ridge Parkway is very similar to Skyline Drive, but is entirely outside of Shenandoah National Park to the south for 469 miles to Cherokee, NC. It connects directly to Skyline Drive and the Hills & Hollows route at Rockfish Gap, near the park's southern entrance.

Displacement of people from the land

that became Shenandoah National Park

The displacement of people from the land that would become Shenandoah National Park, which occurred in the 1930s during the Great Depression, remains a poignant chapter in American history. At least 500 families, primarily from the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia, were relocated to make way for the creation of the park. The government's eminent domain acquisition of land led to the forced eviction of residents who had called these mountains home for generations. This displacement had profound social and cultural implications, severing ties to family lands and disrupting tight-knit communities. Stories of this event are remembered by the Blue Ridge Heritage Project, whose eight chimney memorials are the basis for the Hills & Hollows gravel bikepacking route. 


The echoes of this relocation are still felt today, as descendants of those displaced reflect on the sacrifices made for the preservation of natural beauty and the establishment of Shenandoah National Park. The legacy of these displaced people serves as a reminder of the complex and often conflicting interests involved in the conservation of natural spaces, and encourages ongoing efforts to improve access and equity for various populations living in the region surrounding the national park today.


Many families were relocated to Greene and Rockingham Counties, and these populations have been deeply involved in Blue Ridge Heritage Project’s effort to remember stories of current residents with ties to the land of SNP. In commissioning this cycling route, Greene and Rockingham County hope to expand this important narrative in the experiences of visitors, while deepening the connection of residents to local history on the mountain. 

Greene County

Greene County was established in 1838 and named for Nathaniel Greene, a Continental Army general. At the time of the establishment of Shenandoah National Park, there were several established mountain communities in Greene County, including at Simmons Gap, Swift Run, and upper Pocosin (also spelled Pocosan) Mountain. The Episcopal Church had established 20 mission centers among rural mountain communities, of which 10 were located in Greene County.The schoolhouse from the mission at Swift Run still stands and has been incorporated into a ranger station at the park. Spotswood Trail passed through Swift Run Gap, where the Fern Hill community was located. 


Families from Greene County were relocated to the Geer Resettlement Community. Mountain families were generally offered a small homestead with modern conveniences in the valley, which they had the option to purchase at a favorable price. No one chose to purchase in this community, choosing instead to move elsewhere. The Greene County Memorial is located in Stanardsville, at the start of the Hills & Hollows bikepacking route. 

Rockingham County

Approximately 200 families in Rockingham County were displaced by the park creation. Many were resettled into areas north of Elkton, while five were given lifetime rights to continue to live in the park boundary. Two mountain schools were part of Rockingham County Public Schools until 1932, these one-room schoolhouses had been in operation since the 1880-1890s. Numerous homes, businesses, churches, stores, a post office, and three gas stations were destroyed in Rockingham County to make way for the park.  The Rockingham County Memorial is located in Elkton near the Community Center. 


European Colonization and Indigenous History

European settlers trickled into the Shenandoah Valley and Blue Ridge Mountains beginning in the 1600s, mainly fleeing religious persecution in Germany, England, and Scotland. The Germans tended to gravitate toward agriculture and many developed small farms in the valley, while the English and Scottish settled toward the foothills and mountains. Many came as indentured servants, where they would serve a four-year term as servants in exchange for their passage to the New World. Some were tenant farmers, tending to grazing land and other industry on the mountain on land owned by flatlanders, while others bought land and operated their own hog farms and subsistence farming crops. These close-knit mountain communities brought their rich home cultures while also being shaped by their experiences in the New World, developing into a unique and oft-misunderstood subculture.


Thousands of years before European settlers arrived, native people had been making their home in this area. The Shenandoah Valley served as seasonal grounds for hunting and gathering tribes, and later farming communities settled along the river and its tributaries from tribes including the Manahoac, Monacan, and Shawnee. Archeological evidence suggests the land that became SNP was a frequent hunting ground with seasonal hunting camps, while the more established villages were located in the valley below. 


By the 1600s, the Iroquois from the north had become dominant in the Shenandoah Valley, which served more as a buffer zone and travel route than a place of settlement. Governor Spotswood of Virginia and Iroquois leadership signed the Treaty of Albany in 1722, agreeing to recognize the Blue Ridge mountains as the boundary between Virginia and Iroquois lands. Settlers continued to push across the Blue Ridge and into the Shenandoah Valley in the 1730s, and in 1744 the Iroquois sold their rights to the valley. Today the Monacan Nation has about 1600 members mostly centered in the Amherst area, south of Shenandoah National Park.


Shenandoah National Park now features interpretive exhibits at Big Meadows visitor center about the history of forced displacement, Indigenous populations, and segregation in the park, including the story of Lewis Mountain, in order to acknowledge this painful history while also demonstrating a desire for greater equity in park access moving forward.

View links to additional resources on historical context of the area.
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The Blue Ridge Hills & Hollows route was commissioned by Greene County and Rockingham County and designed by David Landis / V2V Trails of Harrisonburg, VA. 

Many thanks to the following individuals who have provided inspiration, connection, route feedback, and testing: Alan Yost, Joshua Gooden, David Fowley, Geoff Patterson, Anna Dintaman, Cyndi Janetzko, Dave Walsh, Ed Bridge, Jeremiah Bishop, Joanna Friesen, Joe Petty, Kyle Lawrence, Lars Akerson, Nick Marzano, Pierson Hotchkiss, and Ryan White.

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