Herring Creek Nature Trail Guide

Welcome to Zoar State Forest Nature Trail System!

This guide will allow you to take a self-guided tour of Herring Creek. Markers along the trail help you interpret what you see and gain a deeper appreciation of the special qualities this area offers. During your visit, be sure to use your sense senses - sight, sound, smell, and touch. They'll give you an opportunity to learn more about this forest.

Please follow the “Leave No Trace” ethic during your visit.

  • Leave only footprints, and take only photographs and memories with you
  • Take the litter you generate on your visit with you as you leave.

Enjoy your visit and come again soon, since each visit will offer a different sensory experience in this changing forest.

You can also take a self-guided hike on the Mattaponi Bluffs Trail.

Herring Creek Nature Trail - (.4 Mile)

Begin your hike in the lower parking lot.

Stop #16

From this vantage point one can observe the meandering channel of Herring Creek below you and where it empies into the Mattaponi River 500 feet in front and to the right of you. The headwaters of this creek extend westward from this point approximately 18 miles. It received its name for the river herring which migrate to this area every spring, along with its close relative, the shad. These species of fish are described as being Anadromous, meaning they spend most of their lives in the sea and migrate to fresh water to breed. They spawn annually in this lower stretch of the creek, and have generated fishing activity since colonial times.

Stop #17

From this spot you can observe several different understory plants. Each plant fills a special place, or niche, in the forest community. Here one finds mountain laurel, an evergreen shrub with thick shiny leaves which grow in clumps; wild blueberry, sometimes called huckleberry, which has oval shaped light green furry-textured leaves; and pawpaw with its distinctive large oval shaped dark green leaves.

Stop #18

In 1997 a large tree fell here and lay along the right hand side of the trail. Notice all that remains of this tree now which is undergoing the process of decomposition, returning its nutrients to the soil. This natural process is hastened by the work of insects, rainfall, and fungi which unlike other chlorophyll-producing plants prey on the energy stored in other plants. A variety of mushrooms and other fungi are visible at work. Remember to take care and not to collect these for food, as many are poisonous and quite toxic to humans.

NOTE: 150 feet ahead the trail descends a short distance to the right to the Herring Creek floodplain and creek bank. It is a deadend. If you would prefer to bypass this portion of the trail, turn left and skip to stop #21 on the trail.

Stop # 19

From this stop you will notice a rather unusual-shaped American beech with a forked trunk. This kind of trunk is likely the result of this tree having grown in an area which had been fairly open. Beech trees have very thin bark and often become easy prey for vandalism by people who don’t know any better and want to carve their initials into the bark. Whenever the bark of a tree is inscribed or marked, the site becomes a possible infection site where various types of diseases can take hold and even cause a mortal infection.

Stop #20

At this stop the floodplain is entirely on the side of the creek where you are standing. The opposite steep bank forces rising water from the creek over to this bank. The creek has meandered as far as it can to the opposite bank, where marl, a hardened mud, found just below the topsoil has dramatically slowed the erosive effect of the water cutting the channel further. Several springs help drain the groundwater from the opposite hillside into the creek.

NOTE: From this point return to the top of the bank and turn right to continue to the next stop.

Stop #21

In front of you notice the large southern red oak with an unusual growth on the side of its trunk. This is called a “burl.” This feature was probably the result of an infestation or disease which afflicted the tree some years ago. It caused the grain of the tree to become deformed and has increased in size with years.

Stop #22

Just up the trail is a rather unusual looking white oak with a large hump on one side of its trunk. This was caused by some past damage to this tree which resulted in one of its twin trunks dying. The remaining trunk survived and the wound from the dead trunk healed over to form the hump you see today.

NOTE: From here the trail returns to the lower parking area. Take the stairs on the far side of the parking lot and walk along the upland ridge to the upper parking lot. Thank you for visiting Zoar State Forest! Let us know about your experience or offer suggestions at stateforest@dof.virginia.gov