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Monday April 6, 2015

Tobacco BarnsHave you ever visited the Richard P. Gravely, Jr. Nature Preserve? The 75-acre natural area lies along the Smith River in Ridgeway, Virginia and is nestled away just a short drive from Martinsville Speedway. It is part of the Smith River Trail System

This land is full of history, nature, and beauty. The Richard P. Gravely, Jr. Nature Preserve was once a plantation and tobacco farmland, but has been beautifully taken over by nature's regrowth process. It is safe to say that the overwhelming feel of nature and history was present as soon as I stepped foot on Jones Cliff Trail, one of several hiking trails located on the property.

When I began my walk through the preserve, my first stop was to see an old tobacco curing barn. It was interesting to read about the history of the barn on the interpretive sign, but I also enjoyed observing the way nature had taken over the barn and imagining what it was like when it was in use.

As I continued my walk along the trail I noticed a change in the scenery. Hardwood trees became more abundant and formed a canopy over the trail. The hardwood forest canopy marked the way for my journey through time and of course nature. The trail was well marked and easy to follow.

I took a detour off of Jones Cliff Trail to explore Rhododendron Trail. This section of trail is a bit more strenuous as it winds down the hill towards the Smith River. As I continued to walk along the trail, I began to notice a large amount of Christmas ferns lining the trail as I got closer to the Smith River. These ferns stay green all year and were once commonly used as Christmas decorations in the plantation homes.

As I reached the part of the trail that runs along the Smith River, I stopped to take in the fresh breeze and beauty that the river adds to the preserve. There are benches and smooth flat rocks alongside the river that make for the perfect picnic spot nestled away from the rest of the world.

After taking in the view of the river, I couldn't help but notice the Rhododendron and Mountain Laurel that is present along the hillside of the river. Part of the trail takes hikers underneath a canopy of Rhododendron. These plants are appeasing to the eye and play an important role in holding soil in place along the river to help prevent erosion. They also provide shade closer to the river for cool-water fish.

The river was so peaceful that it was hard for me to leave, but once I finally made my
way back up the hill to resume walking on Jones Cliff Trail, I came upon the Burgess Cemetery. This cemetery is made up of 20 members of the former plantation owner John Henry Burgess. I immediately got chills walking through the cemetery and like the old tobacco curing barn; I tried to imagine what this exact part of the land was like in the 1800s. 

Continuing along the trail I listened to birds in the trees and felt the cool spring breeze. I was soon back at the beginning of the loop trail. Before I found my way back to the parking lot, I paused to take in the pure beauty and sounds of the forest that surrounded me throughout my journey.

So, if you find yourself searching for that perfect hidden picnic spot or just want to explore beautiful trails and history, I highly suggest making a trip to the Richard P. Gravely, Jr. Nature Preserve where history meets the beautiful aspects of nature.

Tags: History, Insider's Tips, Ridgeway, River, Smith River, Smith River Trail System, Trails