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Finding River Trails in Nelson County

Yes, we had found land in Nelson County with great diversity of plants. The small development of one road with about 12 homes was called River Trails. It was far enough off the main highway to have an absolute stillness about it. You drove back to the entrance to the community alongside a running creek and the cove was surrounded by mountains.

We had found our own little piece of Heaven.

We had a forester out that the state provided and she identified so many wonderful native trees and plants that would be great wildlife habitat. We even had persimmon trees and Umbrella Magnolia. This type of magnolia only grows in a very small area of the Appalachian Mountains in that part of Virginia and stretching over into West Virginia. What a treasure. We had hazelnuts, mountain laurels, white pines, a hemlock on the bank down near the creek, and an endless supply of wildflowers to be discovered.

We had chosen a conservation/green builder to build and he was willing to work from my floor plans since he and his crew preferred not bother with the excess of architectural plans. We certainly didn’t mind saving the architect’s fees, so I began drawing in the format he requested. We had agreed the land would be disturbed as little as possible and all trees would be kept close to the house. The builder did a great job of putting in the driveway winding around the large trees and we were thrilled beyond belief that our little wilderness paradise project had finally begun.


The floor plan task became a spiral of time pressures and revisions and it seemed the grade of the land and placement of the home didn’t allow some of the things we had designed in, such as a two-car garage and side pedestrian door. The problem was that it wasn’t discovered until building had begun. Little by little it seemed one important thing after another was removed from our home plan as the builder discovered issues with the grade. Randal began to feel like it wasn’t the home he wanted ….. and it also appeared to me that our dream was slipping away.

Slipping away is what it actually did. The year was a very wet one and the builder had one problem after another because of the rain, but we were patient. We didn’t have a deadline other than the excitement of living there. We didn’t realize that living there was not going to happen.

Delivery of the septic tank was scheduled and the driver of the truck turned into an old driveway at the beginning of the property that was put in when the small community was developed about 12 years earlier. It was very overgrown with young trees coming up, but that didn’t seem to alert the driver and he plowed right through down to the house site 90 feet away and got stuck. They had to tow him out and the entire area was horribly ragged and I was heartsick. We’d lost some trees I had already become friends with.

If that wasn’t enough at the same time the equipment that was right behind the house digging the septic tank hole slid down the hill. Until they got that out of there, they had removed a 40′ x 75′ area of trees. This was behind the screened porch that ran the entire length of the house. The tall old trees that would shelter the porch and provide high in the trees views of the birds and squirrles were gone. The porch was to be “my space.” I knew I would live out there and work out there in as many ways as I could and it was to be where I would write. It was now destroyed and with it were my dreams for River Trails.

Greening Bluebird Cove and Lake Monticello

We dove right into greening up our acre, unable to pass any place along the road that sold plants. We were excited to provide some habitat for the wildlife at Lake Monticello that would be here long after we would find our land and build our home.

It didn’t take too long to figure out that we weren’t going to get very far on the landscaping project because the deer were eating entire bushes up not long after we would plant them. The deer here at Lake Monticello certainly did not look like the deer we’d seen continually visiting The Refuge, our home in Alabama. Their growth was stunted and their ribs were showing. This female deer that visited never grew any bigger than this. We named her Skitter. She would visit regularly to drink from our bird bath for over a year and then she just stopped coming.

The lists of plants that deer don’t eat offered us no real help since starving deer will eat just about anything. This seemed to propel me into more action. I decided to start a Backyard Wildlife Habitat Club here at Lake Monticello. I felt there were surely others in this community of over 2,000 homes that were concerned about wildlife and maybe together we could help to balance things out by educating ourselves and others.

The first couple meetings were held in our home and I used materials I had gathered to share with the people that attended. The community had a clubhouse so I booked a room at no cost and promoted the monthly meeting. It grew as I found speakers that provided great information and I scheduled a couple of field trips during the month so we could spend some time together apart from a meeting room and we were still wanting to see much of the natural world in this area of Virginia, so why not see it with others with similar interests.

I continued it for over two years with a few volunteers that helped with set-up and welcoming, but it became too much for me to do and pleas to divide up duties were unfulfilled so it seemed best to move on to something else. We were building a home in Nelson County by now and thought we would soon be moving, so there seemed to be no reason to keep the club going if it was going Some of our best friends have come out of that club, and it certainly educated us and gave us a lot of contacts in the area and lots of volunteer opportunites.

We had learned a lot and were also being taught by the deer what we could plant that they had no interest in. We wanted things for birds, butterflies and hummingbirds. Gradually we were gaining a bit of ground as we discovered what would work in our yard. We also discovered that many in the community simply hated the deer and other wildlife. Most of the residents had moved down from New York and Connecticut suburbs and although this is a wooded rural area, they had not considered that in the realm of landscape plans, so to them it was simply a war against the deer.

The attitudes were sad and having that environment to live in only made it harder to be at Lake Monticello, so we were really excited to have found a piece of land that was almost seven acres of great biodiversity and incredible views of the Blue Ridge Mountains. The property even had a creek on one border and it finally looked like our dream was moving forward.