Clearing Little Calf Mountain Summit: “All Trails Lead to Beer”

Reported by Marian Styles

The summit of Little Calf Mountain is clear, making it a great place from which to admire spectacular scenery. How is it kept that way?

Never let it be said that the PATC Charlottesville Chapter’s trail maintenance outings are a drag. Our May 31 excursion included an awesome wildlife sighting, followed by a picnic, and capped off by a visit to a brewery.

The trio comprising this month’s work trip crew headed to Calf Mountain, with a detour to pick up PATC’s DR mower that Calf Mountain overseer Andy Willgruber has stored in Afton.

Andy’s Calf Mountain efforts started five years ago, when he went to check out the area to see what would be involved should he decide to take the project on. The person meeting him there assumed that Andy had already agreed to the task, and Andy good-naturedly accepted the proffered gate keys and associated responsibility on the spot.

The long-term goal included having a bald area on the top of Calf Mountain, so hikers could enjoy the fabulous view from there. The first task was to get the DR mower up to the top; but when Andy became overseer, the road leading to Calf Mountain was not even passable. Making it so proved a formidable task spanning a number of work trips. Several Charlottesville PATCers contributed to the effort over a period of time. Eventually Andy was able to haul the mower in with his 4WD-drive truck so work on the top could begin.

A work trip on a hot day last September resulted in significant progress, when Andy, John and I were joined by Liz Young and Gene Whitaker. Once Gene got going with the mower, he was not to be stopped. By the end of the day, the desired bald area on the top of Calf Mountain was a reality.

Driving up the access road this fine May day, we had to stop more than once to clear newly fallen trees blocking our way. It’s a good thing that Andy had completed his chainsaw re-certification in April because he used his saw more than once today to reopen the route.

With all the road obstacles removed, we neared the top, where Andy and John Shannon unloaded the mower. They traded off using it to whack down the growth that had sprung up since last fall. I took a short stint with the mower but spent most of my time hand-cutting small trees and other growth.

In the early afternoon, we were treated to an exciting wildlife adventure. Andy was on mower duty while John and I were clearing with hand tools. All of the sudden, John heard rattling from about 10 feet away. It was a healthy timber rattlesnake, about 5 feet long and quite fat. When it slithered out of the brush into a clearing, we got a good view of the critter before it glided back into the brush. It was a magnificent creature. One thing about rattlers: they usually don’t want a confrontation and give you plenty of warning to get lost.

When the top of Calf Mountain was clear once again, we packed up and headed to Dundo picnic grounds for Don White’s annual South District picnic. We brought rain with us, so it’s a good thing Don had installed a tarp over the table. We enjoyed hamburgers and other goodies, plus the camaraderie of other folks who work on trails, including Shawn Green, whose last day before retiring from the Park Service was the following Monday.

The rain proved short-lived, and the sun popped back out. We helped Don pack up before heading out to the Blue Mountain Brewery in Afton, where we ordered samplers consisting of six varieties of beer.

Ahhh, sipping fine beer outside on a fine spring day accompanied by views of the Blue Ridge! What a satisfying way to end a productive and enjoyable day in Virginia’s beautiful outdoors.