Wandering, but not lost, in Virginia

Published 9:12 pm Tuesday, February 7, 2017

By Susan and Biff Andrews

Last week we were on the Outer Banks during a cold snap. We decided to visit Pea Island Wildlife Refuge.

After viewing tundra swans, shovelers, white pelicans and more through the refuge’s excellent scopes, we shopped long enough to find the perfect T-shirt sentiment:

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“Not all who wander are lost.” J.R.R. Tolkien

Last weekend we wandered to three wildlife and birding areas in northern Richmond. First we went to Three Lakes Park, Nature Center, and Aquarium; then on to the Cultural Arts Center at Glen Allen/Walkerton; and finally on to the Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden.

The first stop had lovely trails and, although the aquarium was closed, we could stand above the fish tank and watch the gar, carp, bass and sunfish cruise slowly through their dominions.

The Cultural Arts Center held breathtaking natural art in the form of baskets made of dyed and lacquered longleaf pine needles. Google the work of artist Carol Busto.

And the Ginter was our ultimate goal, as we have visited many times before. In the dead of winter, their tropical conservatory and orchid house provides a welcome, welcome splash of color and warmth.

With a leisurely lunch in their lovely cafe, we were back in Suffolk by 4 p.m. Day-tripping: It’s an art form in itself. And the key to successful day-tripping is planning.

Fortunately, there are many resources out there to help you. There’s “The Virginia One Day Trip Book” by J.O. Smith. There’s “Hiking the Old Dominion” by Allen de Hart (and the Sierra Club).

But our favorite source for trails and nature areas is a VDGIF book no longer published but available online: “Discover Our Wild Side: Virginia Birding and Wildlife Trail.” It’s available digitally at www.dgif.state.va.us.

We generally use the one called “Coastal Area” which details trails from Great Falls near Washington, D.C., south to the North Carolina border and all trails east of I-95.

These include three loops of about 10 trails each in Southside Tidewater and the Eastern Shore, three more loops from Matthews, Gloucester and the Lower Peninsula, then five more loops from Tidewater west to Richmond, the Plantations, and the Appomattox Loop.

Some of these “trails” are merely a parking lot at a trailhead with a dumpster and a porta-potty, if you’re lucky. Some, like the Ginter, are manicured, cultivated and refined. Two or three are all you can visit in a day at best.

We also carry along an article by Lorraine Eaton and Jim Haag titled “The 30 Places to Eat in Virginia Before you Die.” We like to seek out good food as we travel. You can also consult “Diners, Drive-ins, and Dives” on your phone to seek out good eats.

Other required items: Deep Woods Off in quantity, binoculars, a small cooler of water and soft drinks, and appropriate clothing and footwear for the weather conditions. Birding field guides, fossil field guides, wildflower field guides all can help you enjoy what you find.

The primary goal of wandering is to find a spot you’d like to revisit later, taking more time and care on the follow-up trip.

So take some day trips, especially you retirees. Plan them carefully. And remember: “Not all who wander are lost.”

Susan and Bradford “Biff” Andrews are retired teachers and master naturalists who have been outdoor people all their lives, exploring and enjoying the woods, swamps, rivers and beaches throughout the region for many years. Email them at b.andrews22@live.com.