When Irishman Jordon Luck first inspected the Virginia plot he bought from Richard Carter in the late 1830’s, he likely came upon it in the dark and blanketed in fog. He proclaimed it “Banshee Reeks” – after a shrieking female spirit he swore he heard and the Gaelic word for vapor. Today we know it’s likely Jordan heard a screech owl or a mountain lion, and the mist could have risen off of either Goose Creek or the nearby pond. Today the only frightening thing about the place is that it stands as one of the last preserves of relative wilderness in Loudoun County – at 700 acres, the largest piece of untamed land the county owns. For that reason, and many others, it’s worth a trip (http://bansheereeksnp.org).
Stop 1: The Trails
The best possible introduction to the preserve is with Ron Circe, preserve manager, if he’s available. A former U.S. Geological Survey scientist and trained biologist, Ron explains that the preserve’s purpose is to try to develop as much biodiversity as possible. “With biodiversity, everybody wins,” he’s fond of saying.
He can point the way to 20 miles of hiking trails, each 6-feet wide to allow families and dogs on leashes to wander through fields with more than 225 different species of native wildflowers for pollinators, and trees that are home to a couple hundred different kinds of birds. There are even 100-125 species of native bees, some as small as two millimeters, Ron says.
A third, five-year inventory of resident species will take place this year in cooperation with USGS. Another great introduction to both the preserve’s wildlife diversity and its layout is to join a bird walk. These are led the first Saturday of every month starting at 8 a.m. For individual exploring, a downloadable trail map for your phone is available from the visitor center.
Stop 2: The Garden
The day we visited Banshee Reeks, a half-dozen volunteer gardeners were shoveling topsoil mixed with manure into several raised, plank-banked planting beds and container gardens made of watering troughs purchased from a local tractor supply. Soon to be home to a variety of herbs, vegetables and flowers, they sport holes in the bottom for drainage that will be covered with a screen to contain the dirt.
When fully planted, the garden will provide 11,000 sq. ft. of growing space, all pollinator friendly and using no pesticides or herbicides. Everything edible that comes out of the ground goes to Loudoun Hunger Relief. Last year, the first it was fully operational, the preserve donated about 1,000 pounds of food. (A few flowers, it must be told, found their way to the desks of “Park and Recreation Admin ladies” because, like Ron says, “everybody wins!”)
The garden’s primary purpose is as a teaching facility for an 8-part lecture series with hands-on experience called “Gardening for Food and Fun.” Though the first two classes will have occurred by our publication, you can pick up the series on April 4 from 10 a.m to noon with “Growing Strong”: a lecture on planting and growing techniques for young seedlings. On your way to the garden, ask to see the grove that has been planted with several hundred American Chestnut tree seedlings in an effort to restore this species to the wild (see p. X).
Stop 3: The Water
A 1.5-acre pond, formerly used for watering cattle, is now stocked with fish, which you can catch and release. It is fed by a nearby spring, so there is no danger of going dry. It draws many of the local wildlife, which include gray and red foxes, skunks, raccoons, opossums, minks (which Ron says love water), weasels, otters, woodchucks and beavers. Beavers were originally a problem with the spillway; they tried to dam it up, so Ron built a “beaver baffle” to keep them at bay. Walk west and you’ll come to a long stretch of frontage to Goose Creek, which meets the Little River within sight of the creek bank.
Some Eco-Friendly Hiking Rules:
Observe seasonal hours.
The preserve is a trash-free site: pack it in, pack it out.
Keep pets on a leash and under physical control at all times.
Don’t disturb the vegetation, wildlife or archaeological sites.
No smoking or use of any tobacco product (ash can cause fires).
Trail hiking is at your own risk; stay on trails at all times.
No swimming, boating or wading in ponds or streams.
No hunting or trapping. (Deer culling is conducted by lottery during hunting season.)
Vehicles should remain in marked parking areas only.
No alcoholic beverages.