When you come across any type of animal, aren’t you just slightly mesmerized? I know I am! Virginia’s mountains are a breeding ground for some of the best domestic mammals in the U.S.
Wander through the Appalachian Trail, where you’re going to find everything from feral ponies and moose, to rattlesnakes and bald eagles. The Trail runs 544 miles through Virginia, more than any other state! One of the key sites along the way is the G. Richard Thompson Wildlife Management Area in Fauquier County, where the trail covers the entire upper portion of the area and runs for about seven miles. Although it is mostly hardwood forest, the semi-open and shrubby areas on the mountaintop give bird watcher the opportunity to watch the concentration of hawks that migrate the area each fall. George Washington & Jefferson National Forest has four major wildlife districts, with more than 20 viewing areas falling under them. Winding through the Allegheny Mountains you’ll find:
- Hanging Rock Raptor Observatory in the Eastern Continental Divide District gives 360 degree views of the surrounding areas and an eye-level view of migrating raptors. Situated along a popular southern migration path, the best time to spot these creatures is in autumn.
- Warm Springs Ranger District offers some of the best trout streams in the state, as well as vast areas of bird watching. Deer and small game flourish through the area and from time to time, keep your eyes open for a black bear or two.
- Check out the Forests’ Lee Ranger and Mount Rogers Districts for more abundance of wildlife viewing.
Shenandoah National Park has four entry points, where more than 50 species live along the top of the Blue Ridge Mountains. Hop on a trail or cruise through Skyline Drive and keep your eyes peeled for bobcats, black bear, eastern timber wolves, wild turkey and more. Skunks are around the area, so be on the lookout for those smelly creatures!
The Clinch Mountain Wildlife Management Area in the Blue Ridge Highlands is a great place for hunters to set up shop. Deer, turkey, grouse, black bear, ducks, fish and squirrels are all through the area—a mecca for the outdoorsman. Visit during the offseason and take in the views.
The first gateway to the west, the Cumberland Gap is home to 371 species, 33 mammals. Hawks, vultures, turkeys, bobcats, black bears, rodents and more flourish the area.
In the last several years, the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries (DGIF)has established the Elk Management and Restoration program. The DGIF Board of Directors decided to translocate up to 75 elk to be released in Buchanan County. The animals were captured from Kentucky and Tennessee, at their permission, and released in the winter of 2011-2012. In the clause, hunting and hunting access are prohibited for four years, and a reserve of 20 percent of elk hunting tags would be held back for hunters. Active restoration options offer the best alternatives to achieve recreational and economic benefits associated with elk populations. Today, elk flourish in the mountains of Southwest Virginia, offering visitors a chance to spot one of the majestic, rare mammals.
Several state parks offer year-round wildlife hunting within designated area. Fairy Stone, Grayson Highlands, Hungry Mother and Occoneechee State Parks are open to hunting throughout the hunting season (statewide regulations apply). Planning a trip to Primland Resort? Its wild game sport hunting program has been developed to be totally sustainable, supervised by DHIF biologists to control populations of certain game species. Whitetail deer, spring gobblers and pheasant are on property. Expert guides and instructors are also available to assist shooting sports enthusiasts.
Virginia’s mountains boasts some of the most fascinating mammals and more. The Eastern Cougar and Large-toothed Muskrat have also been spotted throughout the mountains and swamps. Experience it all, along with the many hiking trails and national parks that will take you along the way.
Find more information on the 39 wildlife management areas maintained by the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries at http://www.dgif.virginia.gov/wmas.