Sinking Creek Mountain and Fire Recovery

March 31, 2009 at 7:16 am 2 comments

Virgin Gorda’s The Baths is a great example of how today’s places of beauty are often the sites of past traumas. As the millennia pass, vegetation moves back in and erosion smooths over rough edges. It’s nature’s healing process.

There are a number of reasons to hike Southwest Virginia’s Sinking Creek Mountain and here is another one! You’ll get to witness earth’s recovery on a small scale.

On October 13, 2008, a section of the Appalachian Trail was closed while firefighters tackled a wildfire on Sinking Creek Mountain. I hiked that section five days after the fire. The damage was about 0.5 – 0.75 miles southbound of the Niday Shelter. The air still smelled like a giant camp fire, the trail was lined with charred bark and fallen trees, and the ground was carpeted with blackened pine needles.

Sinking Creek Mountain - Ascent - Forest Fire - Shadows on Burnt Pine Needles
Blackened Pine Needles on Rock

Sinking Creek Mountain - Ascent - Forest Fire - Burnt Logs
Burnt Tree Burial Ground

Sinking Creek Mountain - Ascent - Forest Fire - James Hike Debris
James I on Burnt Landscape

Sinking Creek Mountain - Ascent - Forest Fire - Post Fire Trail Maintenance

Forest healing brings forth flora and fauna. In 2001, Backpacker Magazine discussed the changes one could expect after a fire.

As blazes level tall trees and undergrowth, holes are left in the forest canopy, “so all of a sudden you have sunlight hitting the forest floor,” explains Jack Cohen, Ph.D., a fire physicist at the Intermountain Fire Research Laboratory in Missoula, Montana. “This produces a profusion of shrubs, flowers, and shade-intolerant plants like fireweed, and the soil in these areas is rejuvenated. More insects come in, as do animals that forage on the plants and bugs. This brings in the predators, like wolves and bears, to prey on ungulates.”

– “Lessons from Forest Fires“, Backpacker Magazine, June 2001

As spring arrives in Craig County, Virginia and the surrounding mountains, you can witness the rejuvenation of this section of the Appalachian Trail. You can see the profusion of shrubs and flowers and the influx of animals. And if you make return trips, you can watch the vegetation change, the trees grow larger and the signs of the fire become less noticeable.

More pictures of the Sinking Creek Mountain Fire can be found on my Flickr site.

If you do head up that way and take pictures, let me know! I would love to see the differences.

Appalachian Trail: Sinking Creek Mountain Fire

Length: ~4 Miles Round Trip

Elevation Gain:~1000 feet

Directions from Blacksburg, Virginia

1) Take 460 West

2) Turn right on Craig’s Creek Road (VA-621). The Pandapas Pond Turnoff will be on the left hand side of the road.

3) Craig’s Creek Road will turn to gravel, pass Caldwell Fields (worth a stop!) and then eventually turn back to pavement. Once it does, the AT crossing will be within a couple of miles. There will be a camping and parking area on the left side of the road.

Fire was about 0.5 – 0.75 miles south of Niday Shelter on a rocky ascent.

Entry filed under: Appalachian Trail, fire, Hiking, Sinking Creek Mountain.

Legacy and Inheritance on National Land links for 2009-03-31

2 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Virginia Hiker  |  March 31, 2009 at 8:08 am

    This is a great stretch of trail to hike. I hadn’t heard about the fire until coming across your post. The views from the top are just outstanding. Thanks for sharing your pictures, it’s sad to see such a beautiful landscape take a hit but am happy to hear it was not too larger of an area. Thanks again!

  • 2. scienceguy288  |  March 31, 2009 at 11:40 am

    Ah, ecological succesion: a wonderful thing to behold. You can never get mother nature down and out.


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