Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Thompson Wildlife Management Area

Trilliums at TWMA by travel_stuffies
Over the next three weeks or so, people will be flocking to the Thompson Wildlife Management Area in Linden, Virginia. It's worth a visit at any time of the year, but there's a special draw around the beginning of May: huge swaths of trilliums. And, if you're really lucky, there may also be some small pockets of ladyslipper orchids blooming.

We know we're getting farther afield here -- Thompson WMA is nearly 60 miles outside the beltway -- but if you like wildflowers, there's nothing like it anywhere closer to Washington. Birding can also be quite good : the trillium happen to bloom around the same time that a lot of birds are migrating through. And we often see scarlet tanagers and bluebirds here, which can be hard to find in DC.

yellow ladyslipper orchid
yellow ladyslipper at TWMA by Carly&Art

As of 2012, Virginia now requires you to pay a $4 access permit fee ($23 for an annual pass) to enter any WMA. But there's no one at Thompson's to sell you one. You can purchase online (it's the form for a hunting/fishing license, but eventually gives you the option to buy a daily or annual "access permit" under "special licenses"). Or you can call 1-866-721-6911 during business hours, or go to a license agent.

Many local organizations sponsor trips to Thompson's -- check our calendar and the links to groups like Audubon Naturalist Society and the Sierra Club for more info.

If you go on your own, the western side of the area -- which is at the highest elevation -- is where the trilliums are. Looking at the map to the right (larger version here), you'll start at the trailhead next to the "F" in Freezeland Rd (directions below). Take the small spur on the right, labeled by a sign that -- if I recall correctly -- gives the Virginia Native Plant Society credit for maintaining the area. You'll be in the heart of trillium country, with healthy doses of other beautiful spring flowers mixed in. Later in the summer along this trail, you can see unusual species like Canada lily and carrion flower blooming. This spur will take you to the Appalachian Trail, which traverses the park.

Make sure to check out the creek at the bottom of the hill, which supports a whole different set of flora. And when you head back up the main trail back to the trailhead, keep an eye out for little paths leading off to the side -- there are a few clusters of orchids not far off the trail. Beyond that, you've got 4,000 acres to explore (and the AT can take you to Georgia or Maine!).

See this this map to get Google directions to our favorite trillium trailhead. From I-66 take exit 13 for Linden, and follow the signs to go east on Route 55 (John Marshall Highway) -- you'll go left to go under I-66, then left again onto Rte 55. In a little over a mile, go north (left) on Route 638 (Freezeland Road). Continue on Freezeland Road, passing some other parking areas. After 4 miles, you'll pass some radio towers on your right, then the parking lot you want is on your right.

Please note: The area is very popular in the fall and winter for hunting. Whether you're interested in hunting or in avoiding hunters, you should check the hunting season information from VA Dept of Game.