The Piedmont Memorial Overlook

The view from PEC’s 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 verdant agricultural landscape stretching 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.

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.

“This view is no accident.”

This view is no accident. For decades, private landowners have worked together with land trusts to permanently protect their property. The result is 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.

Goose Creek watershed map by Watsun Randolph, PEC
A map of the Goose Creek watershed by Watsun Randolph, PEC.

The Overlook sits on top of Paris mountain. Several freshwater springs can be found on this property which feed 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.

This 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

The Piedmont Memorial Overlook sits on 50 acres owned by The Piedmont Environmental Council, and is part of a corridor of the Blue Ridge Mountains that is permanently protected by Sky Meadows State Park, the G. Richard Thompson Wildlife Management Area, the Appalachian National Scenic Trail, and private land under conservation easement.

In the late 1990s, this property and 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.

Piedmont Memorial Overlook as seen from above.
An aerial view of the Piedmont Memorial Overlook with wildflowers in bloom. Photo by Will Parson, Chesapeake Bay Program.

Soon after purchasing the land, nearly 450 acres were transferred to the United States 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.

Over the past decade The Piedmont Environmental Council has protected nearly all of the 1,235 acres purchased in 2000, and now retains this 50-acre holding on top of Paris mountain. The Piedmont Memorial Overlook is now 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!

Map of land protection by Watsun Randolph, PEC.

A Demonstration of 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 heavily grazed by cattle.

Full bloom at the Piedmont Memorial Overlook.
Full bloom at the Piedmont Memorial Overlook. Photo by Marco Sanchez.
Map of land cover
Land cover at the Overlook.

In 2012, The Piedmont Environmental Council began an extensive restoration effort on the 50-acre parcel you are standing on, 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, tree and shrub plantings, and a small pine savannah.

Monarch butterfly. Photo by Will Parson, Chesapeake Bay Program.

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 and routinely performs biodiversity surveys with our partners at Virginia Working Landscapes, a program of the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute.