Piedmont Memorial Overlook

From the Piedmont Memorial Overlook, atop the Blue Ridge Mountains in Fauquier County, you look out at the heart of the northern Virginia Piedmont—a beautiful site that overlooks one of the most protected landscapes in the eastern United States.

The Piedmont Memorial Overlook. Credit Hugh Kenny/PEC

The land encompassing the Piedmont Memorial Overlook was historically part of a territory occupied by Siouan-speaking people that spanned more than half of the present-day state of Virginia. The rolling green hills of field and forest, dotted by historic towns and villages, and crisscrossed by gravel roads have earned the area a well-deserved reputation for its scenic beauty and historic significance, from pre-colonial times to European settlement, through the Civil War and development of modern agriculture. A verdant agricultural landscape stretches 17 miles between the Bull Run Mountains to the east and the Blue Ridge Mountains to the west. To the south lies the Crooked Run Valley, extending toward Delaplane. To the north lies Clarke and Loudoun counties.

Sitting atop Paris Mountain, runoff from the Overlook feeds into Gap Run, a mountain stream that flows into Goose Creek, a source of public drinking water for northern Virginia residents and an important tributary to the Potomac River.

The mountain is also part of the Crooked Run Valley Rural Historic District, which includes Ashby Gap, a historically important route to the Shenandoah Valley along what is now Rt. 50/Rt. 17. The Preservation Alliance of Virginia once nominated the view from Ashby Gap toward Paris as one of the most endangered, calling it “the quintessential Virginia vista.”

A Conservation Success Story

In the late 1990s, this property and the surrounding area were threatened by several development projects, including mountain-side housing developments and a proposed golf course. Fortunately, in 2000, PEC was able to purchase 1,235 acres with assistance from local families and foundations who support conservation in the Piedmont, including the Prince Charitable Trusts, Jacqueline B. Mars, Catherine Mellon Conover, Marie Ridder, the Ohrstrom family, the Mills family, the Whitehouse family, the Fout family, Phillip and Patricia Thomas, and many more.

Soon after purchasing the land, nearly 450 acres were transferred to the U.S. Department of the Interior to realign and improve the Appalachian National Scenic Trail and provide public access to this exceptional viewshed thanks to the vision and leadership of then-Virginia Senator John Warner and Congressman Frank Wolf.

Additionally, nearby private landowners have worked together with land trusts to permanently protect one of the largest blocks of conservation easements found anywhere in the eastern United States, ensuring that future generations will enjoy the benefits of clean air and clean water, local food, wildlife habitat, and abundant natural, scenic and cultural resources.

Today, PEC has three main goals for this land: to act as a memorial site for this region’s conservationists; to be a showcase and demonstration site for good habitat management practices; and to provide the public access to a spectacular overlook along the Appalachian Trail adjacent to Sky Meadows State Park.

Remembering Those Who Came Before Us

The Piedmont Memorial Overlook is a place of reflection, where we can remember community members who spent their lives working to protect this landscape. This memorial site, conceived by William M. Backer and supported by The Piedmont Foundation, is dedicated to those friends and supporters.

Habitat Restoration

The Piedmont Memorial Overlook sits within a large block of privately and publicly protected land along the Blue Ridge Mountains that is a patchwork of forest, livestock pasture and mountainous fields. The land was actively farmed from the late 18th century until the recent past, and was heavily grazed by cattle.

In 2012, PEC began an extensive restoration effort on the 50-acre parcel with funding from the USDA, first eliminating fescue and other non-native plants from the pasture, and then seeding native grasses and wildflowers. The property now serves as an active demonstration site for landowners who are interested in viewing habitat restoration practices. It hosts a native meadow and tree and shrub plantings.

Grasslands are declining worldwide, and are one of the most endangered ecosystems on the planet. In Virginia, native grassland is being lost to land-use changes like development, farming and forest regeneration. Grassland-dependent bird species are also declining rapidly as their habitat is lost. Restored meadows, like the one at the Overlook, offer refuge for these species in a changing landscape.

The native meadow is the jewel of the property, home to songbirds, butterflies, raptors, bees and black bears. It was planted with 16 native wildflower species that provide forage for pollinators and habitat for grassland birds. PEC manages the meadow using prescribed fire, late winter mowing, and invasive species monitoring. PEC routinely performs biodiversity surveys with our partners at Virginia Working Landscapes, a program of the Smithsonian’s National Zoo and Conservation Biology Institute.

Visit the Overlook

The Piedmont Memorial Overlook is open 24 hours, seven days a week, including federal holidays. Hikers along the Appalachian Trail and the Whitehouse Ridge Trail at Sky Meadows State Park are welcome anytime to enjoy the views provided by the Overlook. PEC also hosts scheduled outreach events such as bird walks, wild edible walks, land management demonstrations, history hikes and more.

Please practice “leave no trace” principles when you visit, and be cautious of local wildlife, such as black bears and Eastern copperheads.

Learn more about properties owned by PEC