Guide to a death-defying summer o' 2012
Skinny dipping at Mint Springs
Oh, wait– that's not allowed. But even with a swimsuits-not-optional policy, Albemarle County has three excellent lakes for swimming, fishing, and picnicking, with beaches, shelters, grills, hiking trails– and bathrooms. To the south is Walnut Creek, which has 15 miles of trails, canoe rentals for $5 an hour, and an 18-hole disc golf course. To the north, Chris Greene Lake offers a fenced, one-acre off-leash dog park, a wheelchair-accessible fishing pier, and canoe rentals. And west of Crozet, Mint Springs is stocked with trout and is home to the memorial for Piedmont Flight 349, which crashed into Bucks Elbow Mountain above the lake. And you might see a bear.
–>Swimming 11am to 7pm, Memorial Day weekend through Labor Day, $3 Albemarle residents, $4.50 others
Sunset on the Blue Ridge
It's easy to forget just how close the Blue Ridge Parkway is, and what a spectacular place it is to watch the sunset with a bottle of wine, although that would be illegal. We meant to say, how spectacular it is to watch the sunset with a nonalcoholic beverage. This excursion works best spur of the moment on a long summer evening. From downtown Charlottesville, it's about 50 minutes to our favorite spot, Ravens Roost, which is about 11 miles south along the Parkway. And if you'd like a cold beer to go with your sunset, the deck at Blue Mountain Brewery down Route 151 is pretty amazing, too. Just get there before the sun drops behind the mountains.
–>30 minutes before sunset, any nice day, Blue Ridge Parkway, free
Fridays after Five
This quintessential Charlottesville favorite, now in its 25th year, combines the best of summertime when the living is easy: music and cold beer. What better way to celebrate the end of the week than to stroll down the Mall to the nTelos Pavilion and catch a live band. Tout le monde comes out on a warm evening, and upcoming local favorites include the Chicken Head Blues Band May 25, Baaba Seth June 8, and Indecision June 15. Did we mention that it's free– and that your beer purchases help support local charities?
–>Fridays, 5:30pm, nTelos Pavilion, free
Monticello on the 4th
There really isn't a more meaningful way to celebrate the 4th of July than at the home of the guy who wrote the Declaration of Independence, and it's something you can't do anywhere but Charlottesville. New American citizens are sworn in in front of the World Heritage Site; a naturalized American citizen like I.M Pei, Sam Waterston or Tracey Ullman speaks. This year it's Olympic gold-medalist Nadia Comaneci. There's lots of flag-waving in the best possible way– without politics. The event starts early, leaving plenty of time to cook burgers on the grill and catch fireworks later in the day. Fans are provided; sunscreen and hats are recommended.
–>July 4, 9am, Monticello, free
Wine tasting at Barboursville
While there are plenty of wineries around, we like this one because its wines are some of the best in Virginia– and it has ruins. Founded in 1976, Barboursville is one of the oldest wineries in Central Virginia. The ruins date back to Christmas Day in 1884, when the house designed by Thomas Jefferson for Governor James Barbour burned. The haunting brick structure still stands with its octagonal room in the center of the house. Barboursville Vineyards has a wine museum, the highly-regarded Palladio restaurant, and a tasting room where just $5 gets you a glass and samplings of 16 to 20 wines. Buy a bottle of your favorite and picnic like it's 1829.
–>Monday-Saturday, 10am to 5pm, Sunday 11am to 5pm.
If you're looking for a pleasant place to walk, run or ride a bike, it's hard to beat the Thomas Jefferson Parkway. Although the path goes up the side of Carter Mountain, the gentle five-degree incline means you can jog or bike the two miles from Route 53 to Monticello without gasping too hard for air. The ride down, of course, will be a breeze. For those who prefer to leave the beaten track, trails crisscrossing the adjacent 100-acre Secluded Farm are open to the public and offer a chance to frolic in fields and scramble up and down steeper slopes. Dogs on leash are welcome.
–>daily, sun-up to sundown, Route 53, free
Bend it like Satchidananda
There's no shortage of yoga studios in Charlottesville, but anyone looking for something a little more intensive– oh, say, an entire weekend of nothing but asanas and meditation– might enjoy a weekend getaway to Yogaville. Forty-five minutes from Charlottesville on 600 acres in Buckingham County, Yogaville was founded by the late Sri Swami Satchidananda in 1980. The centerpiece of the ashram is the Light of Truth Universal Shrine (LOTUS), which is shaped like the flower for which it's named, and which features altars for all of the world's major faiths. Private or shared accommodations are available, or pitch a tent to save some cash.
–>Single or multi-day stays available, $20-$140 per night
Kids driving you crazy? Let them drive! A quick trip over Afton Mountain to Waynesboro– exit 94 off I-64– and your teens and pre-teens can be behind the wheel of a Go-Kart at Fastrax. Kids at least 56 inches can drive the standard karts, and a junior version might appease younger, shorter siblings. Those over 16 can get behind the wheel of a faster "sprint kart." Also on site: batting cages, miniature golf, and an arcade.
–>Daily hours vary, $4-7 per go-kart ride; batting, arcade extra
Reading happens year round, but it's hard to deny that summer affords extra opportunities for kicking back with a good book. And there may be no better place to get a big pile of them than the Green Valley Book Fair in Mount Crawford, at exit 240 off I-81 near Harrisonburg. With half a million books at discount prices, the Fair is fantastic for stocking up on gifts for the rest of the year. And for those rainy summer days when you're wondering what the heck to do, grab the kids and hit the road for some reading.
–>May 12-28; June 30-July 15; August 18-September 3, 9am-7pm daily
Picking berries is fun; eating them is even better, and summer's the time to do both. While there's strawberry picking aplenty at various local orchards, you can go slightly more exotic at Grelen Nursery in Orange County, less than an hour away, where blueberries, raspberries and blackberries are ripening and ready to be plucked. Get ready for stained fingers!
–>Mon-Sat: 8am-3pm, Sunday: 11am-3pm; 15111 Yager Road, Somerset
Go to war
About an hour up Route 20 North, you can go to war this summer. According to local paintballers, WarPlay Paintball in Rhoadesville has some of the best real-to-life scenario set up fields, making you feel like you're in a real battle. And in the summer, when you can't wear layers of thick clothing, the sting of those paintball pellets tend to be more deadly. Of course, the folks at WarPlay will set you up with the right safety equipment, and the refs will keep things under control, but are you ready to risk that shot to the arm or thigh? Indeed, WarPlay was founded by two U.S. Marine vets, and they've designed fields that make for chaotic firefights, where contact with the enemy takes only about 50 seconds. –>Saturday & Sunday, 9am-4:30pm, WarPlay Paintball, $35
The Hook had an additional nugget listed here, but removed it from this online archive because it improperly directed readers enter to private property.–editor
Ride the James
Head down Scottsville way and ride the last existing poled ferry still operating in America. Things like timber and farm produce were carried across the James by the Hatton Ferry over 100 years ago, then loaded on to freight trains. At a nearby store, people picked up mail and items shipped into Hatton, and the ferry was an important transportation link between Buckingham and Albemarle counties. In 2009, the ferry was nearly shut down by the state highway department, but a nonprofit was formed in 2010 that saved it. Today, it's a living bit of American history, and a lovely way to experience the waters of the James River. It operates on Saturday from 9am to 5pm, and on Sunday from noon to 5pm between April and October.
–>May-October weekends, Hatton Ferry, times above, $2 per person and $5 per vehicle
Looking for thrills and spills? Attend one or more of the county fairs in the area. We're talking demolition derbies, motocross races, tractor pulls, fireworks, bear shows, camel rides, and even pig racing. The first one kicks off in Orange County on Thursday, July 26, where, in addition to a watermelon eating contest, and a frog jumping contest (okay, not so dangerous), you can try your luck on the "raging bull" mechanical heifer. Next up, the Greene County Fair beginning on July 31. See beauty queens kissing hogs, a smash up derby (watch out for flying car parts!) and even watch your kid in a tug of war contest. Then, of course, there's the Albemarle County Fair starting on August 2, to be held this year at Ash Lawn-Highland, the home of James Monroe. At the Augusta County Fair August 7 you'll get to see bull riding and rodeo events, plus motocross. Finally, there's the Rockingham County Fair over in Harrisonburg beginning on August 13, where you'll see screaming tractors pulls and even a wild lawn mower race.
–>July 26 thru August 15, various county fairgrounds, $2-$4
Ride into the sunset
Hiking in the mountains is fun, but what about making a horse do it for you? Located about an hour north in Syria, Graves Mountain Lodge offers one-hour, half-day, and full-day horseback rides that take you through the lovely mountains and orchards of Graves Mountain and the valley of Syria. Former rodeo rider, horse trainer, and skilled guide Eddie Birckhead runs the show, offering expert advise on matching riders with horses, calming and coaching first timers and children, and making sure your guided trail ride is safe and fun. Hour-long rides are $40 per person, and half-day and full-day rides, which require a 4-person minimum, will run you between $115 and $220 per person. Kids eight years and older can ride, as long as they are at least 54 inches tall, and the rides are "walk only." Sorry, no galloping off into the sunset. For more information, call Graves Mountain Lodge at 540-923-4231.
–>By reservation, Graves Mountain Lodge, $40-$220
Walk into Swannanoa
It doesn't get much grander– or much quirkier– than Swannanoa. Suppose you owned a turn-of-the-century palace made of carrera marble in a Renaissance style. And suppose it were located atop Afton Mountain with views of both the Shenandoah and Rockfish Valleys. You'd open it for a sum so small that it would be hard to say no. And that's happening again this summer. The 2012 dates (as told to us by phone, 540-942-5201, since there's no website): May 26-27, June 2-3 and 23-24, July 7-8, August 4-5 and 11-12, September 1-2 and 29-30, October 6-7, 13-14, and 20-21, November 3-4.
–>11:30am to 5:30pm, atop Afton Mountain, $6 but kids 12 and under free
Not near a pool or a lake? Don't have time to go to the ocean? Between May 12 and October 7, Charlottesville Parks & Recreation offers a great way to cool off for free– three spray grounds throughout the city at Forest Hill Park, Green Leaf Park, and Belmont Park. The newest, at Forest Hill Park, includes a variety of fun features, like a hoop squirting water you can run through, a trough high above your head that drops water, and even a fake fire hydrant that spews water. Over at Greenleaf Park, the spray ground is touch sensitive and features a mushroom fountain and other interactive features. At Belmont Park, there's probably the biggest "water faucet" you'll ever see. There's also a lot of shade at the three parks; forest Hills with its huge oaks and views of Carter's Mountain, Greenleaf with its whopping 14 acres of hardwoods and evergreens, and Belmont Park with its big oaks and new large shelter. The spray parks are open daily from 10am to 8pm.
–>May 12-October 7, city parks, free