Lost Mountain—Lost Shelter
Big Flat Mountain?
Somewhere, somehow, there is—or was—a backpacker’s shelter on Big Flat Mountain. Do you wonder where on Earth (or, at least in PATC-land) is (or was) Big Flat Mountain?
Well, you know where it is, and it isn’t in southern Pennsylvania!
In fact, you know Big Flat Mountain as Loft Mountain, or as the Loft Mountain Campground.
Yes! Right across the Skyline Drive in the South District by the Loft Mountain Wayside.
If you have driven up (literally) the two mile road from Skyline Drive into the campground, and if you’ve looked around, you know that there are many, many, many camp sites for tenting and RVs atop the mountain. And, you know there is an amphitheater and a camp store (and a closed picnic ground). But, an A.T. shelter?
Oh, and why would we call the shelter a “shelter” when (as we are all aware) the trail shelters in Shenandoah National Park are called “huts?” Well, it’s a mystery.
Loft Mountain is Not Loft Mountain
That’s true, if you think the campground is on Loft Mountain. The campground is actually atop Big Flat Mountain. Why? Because there is a lot more room for a campground on Big Flat Mountain than is available on Loft Mountain, which lies about 1.2 miles north of the Big Flat Mountain and the campground.
Because “Loft Mountain Campground” reads better than “Big Flat Mountain Campground.” Or, at least someone involved with public relations or marketing, or both, thought so.
The National Park Service constructed the campground and its facilities in 1964; before that, no major tourist or camping facility existed in the South District of Shenandoah National Park. The records are pretty scanty today; it seems that Loft Mountain Wayside and the Dundo Picnic Ground were built about the same time as was the campground.
Big Flat Mountain & The Appalachian Trail
The meager records available indicate that PATC laid in the Appalachian Trail across Big Flat Mountain in the late 1920s or early 1930s. Since construction of the Skyline Drive was significantly below the mountain summit, the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) was apparently not involved in constructing or relocating the A.T. on Big Flat Mountain, as the CCC did at Black Rock and other locations. However…
The trail shelter on Big Flat Mountain was not built until the early 1940s.
A Shelter (and a Mountain) Are Lost
When the National Park Service undertook construction of the campground and the multiple facilities therein, the trail community lost the Big Flat Shelter. The few documented references available about the shelter disappear in 1963–1964. However, the NPS compensated for this in 1965 by constructing what was known as the Ivy Creek Hut, approximately 1.5 miles north of Big Flat Mountain and below the real Loft Mountain.
In the early 1970s, the Superintendent of Shenandoah National Park closed all trail huts in the Park. The NPS did this because so many huts had become widely used and abused by non-backpacking visitors. A few years later, and after several huts (such as the one formerly located at Sawmill Spring) were demolished by the Park, the Superintendent re-opened the remaining facilities.
That is, except for one hut in each of the three administrative districts. Those huts were set aside for use by PATC trail overseers and are known as “maintenance huts:”
- Indian Run (North District)
- South River (Central District)
- Ivy Creek (South District)
These huts were enclosed and locked; trail overseers in each district are issued and are accountable for a key to the hut in their respective district.
Where Was It?
The paucity of historical records and the physical changes wrought by construction of the campground causes debates regarding the location of the former shelter on Big Flat Mountain. Anecdotal (word-of-mouth) evidence indicates that the shelter was located about 0.1 mile south of the current Loft Mountain Camp Store. The former A.T. passes down the eastern side of Big Flat Mountain from the Loft Mountain Amphitheater to a junction post at the current A.T. (The current A.T. proceeds below the campground on the eastern face of the mountain before rejoining the older A.T. at the junction with the Camp Store access trail.)
Considering the quoted distance and the existence of the former A.T., the Big Flat Shelter may well have been located above or near the Loft Mountain Campground Amphitheater. Others contend that the former shelter was by a spring on the eastern side of the summit below the current staff housing area adjacent to the Camp Store.
All trail shelters in Shenandoah National Park are named “huts.” Why insist on calling the shelter that used to be on Big Flat Mountain a “shelter,” instead?
Simply put: that’s apparently what it was officially named, as you can see:
Why the difference? No one (apparently) knows. Why was this sign made using wood and routed letters rather than the standard concrete post with a tin band? No one (apparently) knows.
The reasons are as lost as is the shelter itself.
Alan Koontz of PATC and Steve Bair of Shenandoah National Park provided invaluable help with this article. Alan obtained copies of the images of Big Flat Shelter and the sign to the shelter. Steve took time from his other duties as Backcountry Manager to research extant Park records, such as they are.