History, hiking converge at Lake Anna State Park

September 3, 2012 · 3 minute read

Summer is on the wane, but there are still more than enough daylight hours to invest an hour’s drive for a hike in Lake Anna State Park. Here you not only can enjoy the scenery, but also find how past events have shaped today’s Virginia.

Every bit of land on Earth has gone through countless changes in its topography, natural history, and uses by the human race. Long before humans set foot on North America, a fault formed near what is now the state park. Lava welled up and poured through, with the liquid spreading eastward and the leading edge cooling into an iron-rich area. Behind, the flow was compressed into a narrow band now called the Gold-Pyrite Belt.

Lake Anna covers 13,000 acres.

Mannahoack Indians lived in the area at the time settlers from the Old World began to arrive. The natives, being hunter/gatherers and small-plot farmers, had little use for the minerals and the land remained unchanged. Within a hundred years, though, the colonists needed a steady supply of nails, farm implements, and other tools, and the early 1700s saw the rise of numerous iron furnaces. Iron mines pockmarked the countryside and logging roads crisscrossed the landscape. The lumber was made into charcoal to fire the furnaces, but by the end of the century many had closed, victims to other furnaces on the more easily navigable James and Potomac rivers.

Agriculture became the region’s means of livelihood, yet farmers found that “panning” their water runs resulted in small rewards. The first recorded gold mine in Virginia was in western Spotsylvania County in 1806, and Virginia became the nation’s third largest gold producer from 1830 to 1850. The California gold rush of 1849 diverted attention from Virginia and the local population once again adopted an agrarian way of life.

Lake Anna was created for Virginia Power Company’s North Anna Nuclear Power Station. When the dam was completed in 1971, the company gave the lake to the state. With eight miles of shoreline, the state park offers picnic areas, rental cabins, a campground, boat ramp, nature and history exhibits, swimming (Memorial Day to Labor Day), interpretive programs, and concessions. A network of trails allows you to roam the more than 2,400 acres. My favorite hike, at 12.9 miles, consists of two loops, with my car parked in the middle, so I can decide to do the loops on separate occasions if I don’t have the time to do the entire outing all at once.

A highlight is Pigeon Run where Hailey’s gristmill ground corn from 1857 to 1889. Some of the huge stones that made up the mill dam are still visible in the water. Although private homes are on the other side of the cove, this is one of the quietest spots on the hike, so I often take a break at water’s edge and have been able observe a heron trolling the water in search of a meal, a muskrat taking an early morning swim, and a hawk surveying its domain.

Along the Glenora Trail—an old country lane through a forest of sweet gum, hickory, oak, holly, maple, sassafras, and cedar—is a renovated smokehouse. This is the only structure still standing from the Glenora Plantation; most of what was once the plantation is now under the waters of Lake Anna. A chimney on the oldTaylor homesite (with nearby cemetery) signifies that the hike is coming to a close.

Please note: This article is adapted from one of my books, 50 Hikes in Northern Virginia, published by Countryman Press and available through www.habitualhiker.com. The book provides a detailed description of the hike.

Getting There: Take I-95 Exit 118 (40 miles north of Richmond), turn left on VA 606 and drive 8.9 miles, turn left onto VA 208 and continue for 7.2 miles, bear right onto VA 601, and drive an additional 3.3 miles to turn left into the park.