Shenandoah National Park was approved by the U.S. Congress in 1926, without any federal funding approved for its construction.
The Commonwealth of Virginia began purchasing land along the spine of the Blue Ridge Mountains. Eventually, the state acquired a large enough swath of land to provide the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) to begin work on the park in 1935 during the throes of The Great Depression.
Before the U.S. entered World War II, the park had been finished, the CCC having completed the construction of stone walls, overlooks, roads, trails, picnic grounds and campgrounds.
The park’s Skyline Drive became a 105-mile-long-lure for tourists, especially in autumn when the leaves create a multiplicity of colorful patterns for visitors to view. An additional 101-mile-lure, the Appalachian Trail runs through the park that serves as home for 39 species of fish, including the native eastern brook trout.
Shenandoah is derived from the Algonquian word “schind-han-do-wi.”
There was also an Oneida chief by the name of Shenandoah, and “schind-han-do-wi” is believed to have three meanings: “beautiful daughter of the stars,” “great plain” and “spruce stream.”
The park today features 311 square miles of wilderness that is slowly recovering from logging, farming and the clearing of the land by settlers who lived there till Annie Shenk, the last one to live in the park, was moved to a nursing home after living alone in her cabin for 33 years following her husband’s death in 1943.
There are black bear, deer and smaller game in the park. Also, many clear mountain streams lead to waterfalls, and the park features more than 500 miles of hiking trails for visitors to explore in the wilderness area where human history has been preserved.
In 1976, Congress designated about half of the park to become a protected wilderness area.
More than 60 of the peaks in the park, Hawksbill Mountain standing at just over 4,000’ elevation having the highest peak, tower more than 3,000’ above the valleys, and Overall Run Falls, the highest of several waterfalls in the park, drops just over 90’ to the forest floor.
Shenandoah National Park is run by the National Park Service which publishes a weekly “Fall Color Report” during the fall foliage season.
The park’s two visitor centers are Dickey Ridge Visitor Center near Front Royal and the Harry F. Byrd Visitor Center near Stanley.