Outdoor Adventures Await at Nearby State Parks
With springtime (and exam week) upon us, students are itching for a break from the books. If you are looking for an outdoorsy adventure on a budget, the window of opportunity is not as narrow as you may have thought.
Reaching in opposite directions of Liberty’s campus, the James River and Smith Mountain Lake State Parks are just two of 37 Virginia State Parks abounding with unique opportunities to experience the outdoors. Both within an hour’s drive of campus, these two parks are ideal destinations for your next day trip or weekend getaway.
“We like to use the saying that Virginia State Parks are a tonic for the mind, body and spirit,” Virginia State Parks Visitor Services Director Nancy Heltman said. “You can certainly exercise anywhere, but studies show walking in nature—really, just walking—is physically therapeutic over exercise not done in nature. The writer Richard Louv refers to it as Vitamin N.”
Whichever park you choose, you are guaranteed to get your fix.
James River State Park
Just past Amherst and surrounded by breathtaking views of the Blue Ridge Mountains and the James River, James River State Park allows you to trade the din of Wards Road traffic jams for a breath of fresh air.
“You can leave the stress and the busyness of the city behind and recharge out here,” James River State Park Manager Andrew Philpot said.
With over 20 miles of trails, there is ample opportunity to lace up your hiking boots, saddle up your horse or roll out your bike and explore the natural wonders of Mother Earth.
“The gateway experience to state parks is typically hiking,” Philpot said. “There are very few barriers to experiencing that kind of recreation. There’s no equipment necessary—you can come out here wearing your flip-flops or tennis shoes or hiking boots or whatever you have and enjoy the trails.”
The park also features cabins and campsites for overnight visits, picnic shelters and a canoe livery, which provides canoe, kayak and tube rentals as well as shuttle services.
According to Philpot, the James River is a great place for students to volunteer and knock out some CSER hours, too.
“You’ll experience a lot of different activities here than you’d probably be able to experience on campus,” Philpot said.
Among the park’s upcoming events is the Adventure Triathlon on April 21. Online registration is open at https://www.trireg.com/adventures-on-the-james-games-4 until April 18 with an entry fee of $50.
To get in the know of all the upcoming events and James River State Park, visit http://www.dcr.virginia.gov/state-parks/james-river and scroll to “Events, Programs.”
Smith Mountain Lake State Park
On the north shore of Virginia’s second largest freshwater lake, Smith Mountain Lake State Park is a water aficionado’s dream.
“The park’s property is mostly fingers that extend into the lake, and the trails run so you can walk a short distance and get some great water views,” Heltman said.
The park also has a swimming area, boat ramp and rentals as well as a pier for freshwater fishing. Cabins and tent campsites are also available to rent.
About 10 miles from the shops and restaurants of downtown Moneta, Smith Mountain Lake State Park is not so far out that you cannot be close to the comforts of modern civilization while relaxing under the sun or stars.
According to Heltman, immersion in nature is a calming, irreplaceable experience that is sure to be worth your while, whether it is for a few hours or a few days.
“Getting away from the books and stress of the day-to-day student life is good to start with, but being outdoors and walking in nature really gives you a chance for personal reflection and a calming peace,” Heltman said. “Whenever I drive into any of our parks I can feel the stress just falling away.”
You can find all 37 Virginia State Parks at www.virginia.org/stateparks. Whether you decide to visit James River, Smith Mountain Lake or another park on the list, Vitamin N awaits.