Turks Gap Road

Two kids (who just finished swimming at "Blue Hole" on the south fork of the Moormans River) step off Turks Gap Road– one of the historic highways severed by the 75-year ago creation of the Shenandoah National Park– to examine the barely surviving chimney of an old home site. The chimney stands on the the 1,024-acre tract the City of Charlottesville owns for its Sugar Hollow Reservoir.


"1,024-acre tract the City of Charlottesville owns for its Sugar Hollow Reservoir."

Wow, that's land I never knew we owned.

We don't own it. At least--not that chimney. Way WAY back, 1930's or so--the city bought the land under what is now the Sugar Hollow reservoir. The city also bought all the south fork of the Moorman's river (where Blue Hole is) and most but not all of the north fork. But they bought just the stream beds--not the land on either side. The land on either side is mostly Shenandoah National Park. If you look at the tax maps, the plat of the city property looks like a little string wiggling up the mountainside. Also, though technically owned by the city, the reservoir and its sources have been conveyed to the Rivanah River & Sewer Authority, a multi-jurisdiction entity. Why does all this matter?

Because no matter what jurisdiction the cop is from, if he arrests you for skinny-dipping at Blue Hole, arguably he's in the wrong jurisdiction. A county cop should have brought the case in the city courthouse. Or the federal courthouse. A city cop should be in the county courthouse. Etc.

Skinny dipping doesn't happen so much since the road out there was paved, and families with small children started showing after it got popular from being in the newspaper (gosh darn it). But in the early mornings, or late moonlit evenings, sometimes a tired Appalachian trail hiker does take a diversion downhill for a quick dip, as nature intended.

@Beaver: That is a very helpful comment because it points out that the City does own some skinny slivers of land under the Moormans. However, I would direct your attention to county parcel #02400-00-00-00100 which is a 187-acre parcel and constitutes part of the 1,024-acre tract I mentioned above. If you take a look at these parcels on the County's GIS website, it appears to ensure that the chimney lies on Charlottesville City land. (I guess there is a chance that I have misjudged the distance of Blue Hole from the reservoir, so if you know a) the gps coordinates of Blue Hole or b) that it lies west of the intersection with "Distillery Trail," then I would be open to revising my statements.)

By the way, right after I took this photo, I saw two Albemarle County police officers walking west on Turks Gap Road in the direction of Blue Hole. I have no idea what they were looking for.--hawes spencer

Without wishing to debate GPS coordinates,the metes and bounds in 90 year old deeds are the only accurate land boundaries as tax maps are very inexact approximations. But-- look at Sugar Hollow farm. The back entrance to the farm which is the flat spot with a stream coming down it, is just behind Blue Hole. That's private property. But the hill to its immediate east, overlooking Blue Hole and the road up to Blue Hole which further downhill has those magnificent soaring cliffs--that entire hillside up to the top is a kind of "island" of Shenandoah National Park. The opposite end of the island is (presumably) where the Charlottesville/RWSA property begins. The chimneys are I think in that Shenandoah National Park island, though I would insist on a surveyor doing metes and bounds if you wanted to put any money on it.

Cops? Sorry to hear of it. Next it'll be teenage lifeguards smelling of suntan lotion tweeting at swimmers out of boredom.

@Beaver: Yeah, those stone cliffs are amazing, aren't they? However, I don't know about the SNP "island." To my eye, the area you're describing thusly is actually part of that 187-acre City tract whose tax map number I provided above and which looks sorta like an afterthought. I mean, why have one parcel containing the skinny little slivers and then have an adjacent parcel between one sliver and the Farm? If I'm looking at it wrong, I'd love to know. (We just did a big story on the history of SNP, and one of the things that interests me the most is the phenomenon of these moribund former thoroughfares.)

Strangely enough, Google maps accurately shows the island as a sea of green parkland isolated from the rest of Shenandoah National Park by the white squiggle which is the Charlottesville owned streambed of the south fork of the Moorman's River. But Google maps does NOT show the secret of the north fork, which is that the upper part is not parkland but privately owned. I guess the idea was that once the park severed road access, no need to spend scarce money buy it up.

For a really interesting former thoroughfare: go further up to Brown's Gap Turnpike. It s very old road that nobody knows crosses the mountain. Past a certain point the rocks and ruts force you to leave your car and walk. Stonewall Jackson used that old road for one of his lightning dash surprise marches into our valley. He would recognize it today--it hasn't changed--you can almost hear the wagons lurching, and the clatter of horses hoofs on rocks, and you can drink from the bright stream that must have stalled the march as hundreds and thousands of dusty hot tired troops could not be prevented from stoping to drink and refill their canteens.

Thanks Beaver and Hawes, my adventures to Blue Hole have been forever changed with this new information and a sense of history to go with it.

Will check for cops. Bathing suits are so --well --out of place in the garden of eden.

@Beaver: I did attempt to drive Brown's Gap Turnpike about 15 years ago in a Volvo, but I only got about a third of the way before the boulders and fallen trees turned me back. Am looking forward to trying again some time-- on foot! Also, I went back to the Blue Hole last night, and made two observations:
1) There was a powerful stench of dead earthworms. The little critters died en masse on the rocks above the swimming hole, according to a fellow swimmer.
2) Both the chimney and Blue Hole itself most certainly lie on Charlottesville property. The way I confirmed this was by walking about 100 to 150 yards west of Blue Hole and noting the location of Distillery Trail, which helps orientation on Albemarle's GIS maps.
3) Whoever built that rope swing did a masterful job with the caliber, the length, the knots, and-- particularly-- the splice. We had a great time up there!--hawes spencer

At the cost of time and trouble though not money, you can download USGS topographic maps which are the most accurate available account of Shenandoah National Park boundaries: http://store.usgs.gov/b2c_usgs/usgs/maplocator/(xcm=r3standardpitrex_prd&layout=6_1_61_48&uiarea=2&ctype=areaDetails&carea=%24ROOT)/.do

The Sugar Hollow area unfortunately is not on one map: it is at the intersection of four of them: Crimora, Browns Cove, Waynesboro East, and Crozet. Crimora has most of the info you need. You'll see the "island" of Shenandoah National Park. So: if you are swimming at Blue Hole you are in Charlottesville, but if you walk away ton either side far enough--about ten or twenty yards--you are in a national park.

Or, here's an alternative: go back up there, walk that 100 yards above Blue Hole up to where the road comes in with the chain across it, and look down at your feet. Shuffle around a little--you will soon find a small bronze marker, about the size of an old silver dollar. Scrape it off, bend over and read it: it says National Park Boundary. Now, as I said before, all maps--even USGS topographic maps--are inexact and only a surveyor reading metes and bounds off a deed can tell you exactly where the boundaries are. Which of course is a preview of my defense if those Albemarle police you mentioned ever catch me au natural.

Correction to myself: that USGS website offers for download newer satellite-photo based maps but has not yet posted all the older maps, better maps, hand-drawn maps that show details of park boundaries, together with springs, old mines, abandoned railroad trestles, lost graveyards, the collected wisdom of previous generations of map makers who walked or rode horseback to survey the area and knew every rock outcropping, every trickling freshet. We've lost that human-scale information with machine renderings of what a satelite can see. I have old-style paper 1977 USGS topographic maps updated in 1987 pieced together to show the Sugar Hollow area and will take a digital photo or provide the original for Mr. Spencer's inspection if he likes, to settle the question of who owns those chimneys. We all do: they are in the park "island."

Beaver, I admire your dedication to preserving history as it was originally written, and not allowing it to be replaced by digital history that has often lost the human touch.