Driving Tour: Appomattox-Buckingham State Forest


Welcome to your driving tour of the Appomattox-Buckingham State Forest! At 19,808 acres, this is Virginia's largest State Forest.  Like all State Forests, the Appomattox-Buckingham is a working forest. That means that it's managed for a variety of benefits to people and nature.

In order to navigate through this tour, use the map that came with your CD, or print it from the website where you downloaded this audio file.  Most of your tour will follow unpaved, but well-maintained, forest roads.  There is one stream crossing between stops 3 and 4 which may be impassable during high water events, or if your car has very low clearance. You may want to skip stop 4 if you're worried about the crossing, and simply follow the map from stop 3 to stop 5.

You are welcome to stop and walk around on the forest. Please note that there are NO restroom facilities on the forest. You can find restrooms at Holliday Lake State Park, or you can take your chances in the woods, but please leave as little trace of your visit as possible.

If you are touring during deer or turkey hunting season - that is, between October and early January, or during April and May - it's recommended that you wear blaze orange while hiking, or hike on a Sunday.

As you proceed through the stops on this tour, you will hear some additional information to think about between stops. When you hear the music at the end of each of these transitions, pause your audio player until you reach the next stop.

Stop 1

Your first stop is the Appomattox-Buckingham State Forest Office on Francisco Road. To understand how the forest and its uses have changed over time, it's helpful to know a little of this area's history. Archaeologists believe that Native Americans did not establish many permanent settlements in this part of Virginia. Thus, the area was not heavily settled prior to European contact.  Instead, Native Americans mainly used this area during hunting and foraging trips.  There is archeological evidence of several base camps that were used for short times. This arrangement may have kept peace between Algonquian-speaking tribes of eastern Virginia and Siouan-speaking tribes to the west.

After European settlement of the area about 300 years ago, the land had a long history of farming. By the mid-1930's, much of the land was highly eroded and had become unproductive. The federal Resettlement Administration began buying “marginal” farmland, and in many cases, leasing the land to states. In this way, Virginia acquired the majority of the Appomattox-Buckingham State Forest. In 1954, the federal government actually deeded the land to the Commonwealth, and this became an official State Forest.

Drive along Slate River Forest Road on your way to the next stop, you'll see an old home site and cemetery. You can often identify old cemeteries by an evergreen groundcover called periwinkle growing in the woods. These home sites and cemeteries are scattered all over the State Forest, reminding us that this land once had other owners.

Stop Two

Stop 2 is the Slate River Watershed Lake. The U.S. Department of Agriculture created it as a flood control structure in the 1990's. The lake provides habitat for fish, waterfowl, and other wildlife.  Fishing and non-motorized boats are allowed on the lake, but you do need a special permit to fish on State Forest land. Looking across the lake, see if you can spot a beaver lodge.

As you drive back to the main road, you'll see another cemetery site. Keep your eyes open during your tour for more signs of past land uses.

Stop 3

Stop 3 is a 31.5 acre stand of shortleaf pine, planted in 1980, that has subsequently been thinned. Shortleaf pine is native to this area. Over the years, people have replaced it with the faster-growing loblolly pine, which is native farther south and east.  Re-establishing shortleaf pine is one initiative on the Appomattox-Buckingham State Forest. Thinning a pine stand improves forest health by reducing  competition among the trees and lessening the chances of southern pine beetle infestation. It also allows more light into the understory, promoting the growth of plants for wildlife. In the long term, thinning can encourage oaks to regenerate.

On your way to stop 4, there is a rock ford, so if you have a low-bottomed car, you may want to skip the next stop and follow your map directions to stop 5. Most cars can pass over the ford easily. Don't be alarmed about driving through the stream. Correctly constructed fords do not degrade water quality. Rock fords can be a preferable stream crossing practice in some areas with low traffic, low banks, and a firm, rocky bottom. A ford may not be usable during high water events. However, forded areas are less likely to wash out than other types of crossings, and ongoing maintenance is low.

Stop 4

Here at stop 4, you will see a 3rd cycle loblolly pine seed orchard.  In Virginia, serious work to develop desirable growth traits in loblolly pine began in the 1950's. Cuttings from wild trees of the best size and form were grafted onto rootstock to create 1st generation orchards. Crosses of the best of these trees, plus some new selections, were used to start 2nd generation orchards. The best of the 1st and 2nd generation orchards, along with some new stock from natural stands, were used to create what we call “3rd cycle” orchards. Because not all of the seedlings came from 2nd generation crosses, the term cycle rather than generation is used for this 3rd round of improved seedlings. Third cycle seedlings have shown 37% better growth than naturally occurring seedlings. Seed is now being collected from these orchards and will be used to grow even better quality loblolly pines. 

The tree improvement program has had a positive economic impact for those who grow pine trees. The best trees have a present value of $50 to $300 more per acre than average loblolly pine plantings.

If you are here in winter, you may notice that the grass under these trees is brown. These are warm season grasses, planted to benefit various game and other wildlife species.

As you travel to the next stop, you are moving from the Slate River to the Willis River watershed.

Stop 5

The mature loblolly pine stand at Stop 5 was recently harvested and is being reforested. We will be locating an alternate stop for this tour soon. Meanwhile, please skip the audio portion of this tour stop, but do take a look at the completed harvest site. New forest coming soon!

Stop 5 is a good example of a mature loblolly pine stand. Loblolly pine is the most widely planted timber species in Virginia and much of the southeastern United States. The 8 acres of trees starting at the intersection of Cole Forest Road and Route 612 were planted in 1942. On the left side of Cole Forest Road, 5 acres were planted in 1956. Other stands across the field include 10 acres planted in 1947 and 11 acres planted in 1945. All of these trees were from seed collected from unimproved natural stands.

Did you know that there were once gold mines in this area?  On your way to the next stop, you're driving through the southern end of a gold belt, which stretches from here north to the Potomac River. This belt was mined fairly productively until the western Gold Rush in the 1800's.

Stop 6

Here at stop 6, you can see an open area that is managed for wildlife. This area is regularly mowed, and sometimes it is sown with plants that game animals, such as deer and turkey, use for food. Behind the open area is a bottomland hardwood tract. This is the headwaters of the Willis River, part of the James River watershed. These riparian, or riverside, trees help to maintain water quality and will not be harvested. Protecting water quality is one of the main goals of the State Forest.

On your way back out, notice the large black walnut tree on the left. It is common to find black walnut on the many old homesites here on the forest. Walnut trees were planted and the nuts harvested by the previous residents of this land.

Stop 7

Stop 7 is a hardwood shelterwood harvest site. A shelterwood cut is a way of harvesting a stand of trees in 2 stages.  Here, some of the best trees were left behind after the first cut, reducing the stand's basal area.  Basal area is the sum of the area actually occupied by tree trunks. In this case, the first cut left a basal area of 30 to 40 square feet per acre.  The remaining trees will let in enough light to encourage oaks to regenerate, but usually not enough for yellow-poplar or other species that can't tolerate shade.  Opening the understory to light also generates a flush of low growth for wildlife to feed on. The sheltering trees will be cut about 10 years after the initial harvest, to allow the young oaks full access to light.

As you drive between stops on the State Forest, you may notice paint markings on trees. Yellow paint is used to mark the outer forest boundaries, as well as the boundaries with state-maintained roads that run through the forest.

Stop 8

At stop 8, on the left side of the road,hardwoods are regenerating after a completed shelterwood cut.  The remaining trees have been removed.  Notice the many young trees that have gotten off to a good start in the partially shaded understory.  On the right side of the road, you can see what a stand might look like before a shelterwood cut has begun.

Several years ago, graduate students from Longwood University studied songbirds' use of forest land in different stages of succession.  Succession is a natural, and usually predictable, change in plant communities over time.  The students found that different bird species used the mature forest on the right than used the shelterwood area with the young hardwoods on the left.  This study demonstrated the importance of maintaining a forest with a mosaic of ages and timber types - that is, forest in different stages of succession.  In past centuries, this diversity would have been achieved by fire, disease and insect outbreaks, and severe weather, such as hurricanes and tornados.  Today the State Forest maintains diversity by harvesting timber on a sustainable cycle that will maintain a mix of timber and habitat types.  See if you can spot different successional stages on the forest as you drive between stops.

Stop 9

Stop 9 is the Holiday Creek Water Gauging Station.  This station has been part of the U.S. Geological Survey's ongoing stream monitoring efforts for over 40 years.  Holiday Creek's excellent water quality has made it a benchmark stream.  It is the easternmost Virginia stream that is stocked with trout by the Dept. of Game & Inland Fisheries.  Almost all of Holiday Creek's watershed is contained on the State Forest.  The Department of Forestry practices responsible forest management, ensuring that water quality in streams is protected even when trees are being harvested. 

To help people harvest timber responsibly, the Department of Forestry encourages the use of Best Management Practices, or BMPs.  BMPs are guidelines that help loggers comply with water quality laws.  BMPs help the land recover quickly from a harvest. Pre-harvest planning should be done prior to any type of timber harvesting operation.  Stream crossings, roads, skid trails, and logging decks are all areas where BMPs will need to be used.  As you drive through the forest, look for other areas where BMPs have been used to protect water quality during harvest.

Stop 10

The site marked in blue at stop 10 is a hardwood “natural area.” This area is aesthetically pleasing to many people and provides a good space for recreation. There are no management prescriptions here, except fire suppression.  In some cases, it is desirable to leave certain areas unmanaged. Having this area of older trees adds to the overall diversity of forest types.  The trees are over 150 years old and are a good example of a natural upland hardwood stand. A trail runs through this area and into what was once a natural shortleaf pine stand. Those pines died and fell to the ground in the 1990's, after being attacked by southern pine beetles.

Here's a question to ponder as you drive to the next stop. Are older forests always better for the environment?  As with many environmental questions, the answer is, “It depends.”  From the standpoint of carbon, old trees do store a great deal of carbon over their life spans, but there is a tradeoff. They do not actually sequester, or take in, carbon as fast as young, rapidly growing trees.  In other words, a young forest removes more carbon from the air, while the older forest contains more stored carbon from its many years of growth. From a wildlife standpoint, old stands benefit certain kinds of late successional wildlife and understory plant communities. But young stands support completely different, and no less important, species.  Also, some species need a mix of older and younger forest to meet all of their needs. As you've already heard, this State Forest has a mix of young and older sections, thus benefitting a wide variety of plant and animal species.

Stop 11

Stop 11 is Holliday Lake State Park, one of 35 State Parks in Virginia. State Parks maintain their lands in a natural state and do not produce timber and other forest products.  Both State Parks and State Forests provide good places for outdoor recreation, but you will find more visitor services and facilities in the parks. Holliday Lake State Park is a good place to stop today if you're looking for more trails to walk, a place to camp, or a bathroom that's a little less primitive than the natural variety on the forest!  There is a nominal entry fee for parking.

As you leave the park area, you will again notice a mosaic of forest types. You'll see lots of oak growing in places where the pines have been harvested.

Stop 12

Stop 12 is a stand where management strategies have had to change with the circumstances. This was a loblolly pine plantation that was damaged by an ice storm and southern pine bark beetles in 1994.  Dead and dying trees were salvaged, and the remaining trees were left to grow to sawtimber size.  The site was clearcut in 2006, due to a low number of trees, to make way for a more productive stand.  This stand would have been prescribed burned during the summer months, to remove natural pine seed and to prepare the land for planting improved seedlings. However, due to drought conditions, State Forest staff were unable to burn.  As a result, the natural seed germinated, and there are now many thousands of trees growing where the foresters would have planted only 500 trees per acre.  With the severe crowding in this naturally produced stand, competition between the trees will seriously limit their growth.  This will result in an extremely overstocked forest - one that is very susceptible to disease and insect infestation.  Precommercial thinning could be an option on this site, but it can be time and staff-intensive.  Instead, the Department has decided to start over by drum chopping the site, then burning and planting with loblolly pine.  This process will begin in 2010, so if you visit again, watch for changes on this site.

If you own forest land, there may be cost share money available for pre-commercial thinning, to help prevent bark beetle outbreaks in your pine stands.  Other cost share programs, either from the Department of Forestry or other agencies, can assist landowners with various forest practices. Your local DOF forester can help guide you through the many programs available. You can find local contact information, as well as information about cost share programs, on the Virginia Department of Forestry's website: www.dof.virginia.gov.

Stop 13

Stop 13 is a loblolly pine stand that was planted in 1988 and thinned in 2008. As you have heard a few times on this tour, thinning has many benefits in a pine stand.  It reduces competition, allowing the remaining trees to grow faster with less stress, and reducing the chances of beetle attack.  Thinning also allows some sunlight to reach the forest floor, encouraging vegetation that serves as food and cover for wildlife.  A commercial thinning can also generate income, as the trees are large enough to be marketed for paper pulp, oriented strand board, posts, and small sawlogs.  To reduce compaction, the subsoil on the logging deck and haulroad was broken up after the thinning.  These areas were then stabilized and seeded with grass to minimize erosion.  There was an existing open field in this stand, and it is now managed as a wildlife opening.

As you drive along what was once part of the Richmond to Lynchburg Stage Road, you are following the path that General Robert E. Lee and his troops took as they headed to Appomattox Courthouse in the final days of the Civil War.  Notice the high banks alongside the road.  These banks actually show you the original level of the road.  Many years of use in the horse and buggy days, without modern equipment for maintenance, wore down and eroded the road bed to the level it is today.

Stop 14

Stop 14 is known as the Lee Wayside. Legend has it that General Lee's troops stopped here to rest and drink from the spring. Drinking from the spring today is NOT recommended, as we can't guarantee its modern-day cleanliness, but you can enjoy the picnic shelter here. Looking above the wayside you'll notice the natural process of forest succession at work. The pines are dying out and being replaced by hardwoods.

Many people are surprised to learn that timber is harvested from State Forests. They wonder if it is okay to cut trees, and if we will run out of trees. Sustainable timber harvest is one of the goals of most State Forests, along with recreation, water quality, wildlife, research, demonstration, and education.  Wise management of the forest resource has actually increased the amount of timber on Virginia's State Forests. The volume of timber harvested between 1971 and 2002 was 11% greater than the total amount that was present in 1971. Yet, the total remaining volume of timber was still 57% greater in 2002 than in 1971!

Stop 15

Mature pines were clearcut from stop 15 recently. Clearcutting is a term that many people misunderstand.  In forestry, it is used as a tool for even-aged management. That means it creates a stand of trees that are all the same age.  A clearcut is a reliable way to regenerate trees such as pines, which do not tolerate shade.  It also pushes succession back to an early stage, benefitting certain types of wildlife. In good forestry practice, you might simply think of a clearcut as a very young forest.  This site was burned in 2009 to prepare for planting pines. To prepare for the establishment of some pine growth research plots, and to control competition from hardwoods, the stand was also sprayed with herbicides, applied by helicopter.  The Department of Forestry will plant 500 loblolly pines per acre here in 2010.

As you leave for the next stop, watch out for hikers, as the Carter-Taylor Multi-Use Trail crosses the road here. State Forest land is used for forest recreation activities, such as hunting, fishing, trapping, hiking, horseback riding, mountain biking, picnicking, birdwatching, and just being outdoors. An annual permit is needed for hunting, trapping, fishing, horseback riding, and mountain biking on State Forest land. You can get this permit online at www.dof.virginia.gov or wherever hunting permits are sold. Hiking, picnicking, and nature study are free!

Stop 16

Stop 16 is 38-acre stand planted in shortleaf pine in 1996. Shortleaf pine is slower growing than loblolly, so it was important to properly prepare the site and remove competing trees, in order to achieve good shortleaf survival.  This practice is called release, and it was done with herbicide applied by helicopter. Shortleaf pine has a tight grain and straight trunk, making it valuable for softwood lumber.  As you learned at an earlier stop, shortleaf is native to the area, but for economic reasons, it has often been replaced with faster growing loblolly pine.  One State Forest management objective is to maintain diversity of native species by reproducing areas of shortleaf pine in Piedmont forests. On State Forests in the Tidewater region, reintroduction of another diminished species is underway. There, longleaf pine has all but been replaced by loblolly, but the Department of Forestry is planting longleaf on some sites where it originally thrived.

As you drive to your last stop, you may notice that another type of pine has naturally seeded along the edges of the road.  This is Virginia pine, another common native species. Its growth habit creates knotty lumber, so when it is harvested, it is used mainly for paper pulp.

Stop 17

Woolridge Wayside is the 17th and last stop on this tour. The picnic area features some large black walnut trees and a spring at the bottom of the hill.  The Civilian Conservation Corps, or CCC, built this shelter, as well as some of the cabins at nearby Holiday Lake 4-H Center. The CCC was formed during the Great Depression as part of President Franklin D. Roosevelt's New Deal.  Its purpose was to employ young men who were out of work, as well as contribute to natural resource conservation in localities.  In addition to building and road construction, the CCC planted trees, fought wildfire, worked on soil and wildlife conservation projects, and created much of the infrastructure for many State and National parks.


This concludes your driving tour of the Appomattox-Buckingham State Forest. We hope you have learned a lot about forest management, and maybe even some techniques or resources you can use yourself. If you would like advice on managing your own forest land, contact your local Virginia Department of Forestry office. A list of offices can be found at www.dof.virginia.gov. Please plan to visit the Appomattox-Buckingham State Forest again, and as you travel through Virginia, take time to explore our other State Forests. 


This audio tour is copyrighted 2009. The script was written by Ellen Powell, Mike Womack and Gary Heiser of the Virginia Department of Forestry, and John Munsell of the Virginia Tech College of Natural Resources. Tour stops were selected by Mike Womack. Narration provided by Joe Lehnen of the Virginia Department of Forestry.

Last modified: Thursday, 06-Nov-2014 10:18:34 EST