Written By: Zach Champ
Photos By: Zach Champ & Other Sources Mentioned
SCENIC APPALACHIA & THE BLUE RIDGE MOUNTAINS
The Blue Ridge Mountains in Southern Appalachia are located neatly in the corner of southwest Virginia and has long been appreciated for it’s rustic and rugged wilderness. This rich mountainous area is filled with gentle rolling peaks that are covered in vibrant green forests and spacious farmlands. The Appalachian Trail crosses through this area, a popular tourist destination for an estimated 2-3 million people each year. The natural beauty of the area is highlighted by its rich pioneer and indigenous history, dating back to the very birth of the United States of America! Appalachia was the first frontier for American westward expansion, and consequently, it was here that the archetype of the American Frontiersman was cultivated and honed.
The history of Appalachia goes back to the founding of the United States of America and during the time of the 13 colonies. As European settlers came from overseas to settle in the new world they began to discover how vast and big the continent really was. The first initial challenge for the new colonies was settling the vast mountains directly to the west of the coast, the area that we know today as Appalachia. Scot-Irish immigrants, as well as British and German immigrated to the area, but they were moving into an already occupied land. The region had been the homeland for centuries, of several native peoples. Here in Southwest Virginia both the Cherokee peoples and the Algonquin speaking Powhatan shared territory within this area. Conflict was inevitable, and the Cherokee were unfortunately and shamefully displaced from their lands, but the interaction of both these cultures resulted in the creation of the Appalachian heritage which today unites both legacies.
Today Appalachian peoples are proud of their heritage and their rugged lifestyles. Living in the mountains isn’t easy, and it requires a certain mindset that is determined, hard-working, and humble to survive. While Appalachia does benefit from many modern conveniences, it is still “old-time” country where traditional values and occupations reign and life moves at a somewhat slower pace. Living in Appalachia can make it easy to forget the rest of the world, and sometimes that can be a good thing! That’s why Appalachia is one of the best spots to visit for vacations at all times of the year. The region is beautiful, historic, and captivating and sure to grab a hold of your heart.
A HISTORICAL LEGACY- HUNGRY MOTHER STATE PARK & THE CIVILIAN CONSERVATION CORPS (CCC)
Located within these scenic hills in the heart of Smyth County, and next to the Town of Marion, is Hungry Mother State Park. A wondrous feat of human manpower and engineering, Hungry Mother State Park is one of the six original parks built in the 1930s by the Civilian Conservation Corps during the Great Depression. Completed in 1933, Hungry Mother State Park served as a testament to the effort and willpower of this generation of American’s, who would later go on to serve in World War II. Due to this legacy, the park was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 2007.
Photo Courtesy Via DCR Virginia
Thousands of young men, of all backgrounds, cultures, and walks of life, were enlisted into the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) as part of Franklin D Roosevelt’s New Deal. These men sought to join the CCC for a chance at better employment and livelihood. The Civilian Conservation Corps provided these young men with a purpose: granting them with a stable income, critical and much needed skilled labor training, advanced educational training, and helping mold them into one of the greatest generations of Americans, who had a clear and vested interest in their country and its land.
CCC Workers Clear Land at the Future Hungry Mother State Park
Photo Courtesy via SWVA Today
Hungry Mother State Park is centered around a man-made lake. Before the park’s creation, the area was primarily a valley with a few farms. The area had to be evacuated and the land cleared and prepared so that the main water source, Hungry Mother Creek could be dammed up. This was a huge and massive undertaking, an infrastructure project that was among one of the largest in the country at that time! It required the mobilization of the nation’s workforce and the hard work and labor of hundreds of thousands of young men. Even more impressive was that this project occurred in perhaps one of the most rural and isolated regions of America.
The CCC Workers Lived & Worked on the Park in Temporary Camps
Photo Courtesy Via DCR Virginia Website
Today Hungry Mother continues to honor the legacy of the CCC by telling the story and educating visitors to the park about the major contribution the CCC provided towards the park’s creation. Visitors to the park can learn more about the CCC and Hungry Mother State Park by stopping by the visitors center at the park’s entrance. The visitor center is in a log cabin style building and features a museum with plenty of exhibits and children’s activities.
WHY THE NAME 'HUNGRY MOTHER STATE PARK'?
You may be wondering why the park has such an odd name as “Hungry Mother State Park”. The answer lies in a local legend surrounding Molly’s Knob, the central mountain of the park. As mentioned earlier, there was a lot of tragic conflict between the native inhabitants of Appalachia and the European settlers. This often resulted in deaths and property being burned on both sides. The Natives would sometimes raid European settlements for revenge and it was during such a raid in the region that a woman named Molly Marley and her kid was taken captive.
The Natives brought Molly back to their campsite which was located near the park’s boundaries today. Molly and her kid escaped the native’s campsite and fled into the wilderness. They struggled to survive as they found themselves on a mountain peak, which is today Molly’s Knob. Eventually, the mother collapsed and the kid had to follow the creek down into the valley where eventually they found a search party. The child was so weary and exhausted from fatigue, starvation, and dehydration as well as the trauma of the experience. The only words they could say was “Hungry Mother” and pointing towards the mountain top. The search party made it to the mountain, but tragically Molly had died by the time the rescue group arrived. Today the area is named after her. There is much debate to the accuracy of this local legend as it has been hard to verify and is considered folklore more so than historical fact.
If you want to read more about the Legend of Hungry Mother State Park you can read this really informative article on Appalachian Magazine.
THE PERFECT DESTINATION FOR OUTDOOR RECREATION!
Easily accessible from Interstate 81, Hungry Mother State Park is a Virginia State Park that features a large man-made lake created where an old farming valley used to be. Hungry Mother Lake features an artificial beach made from sand imported from Virginia Beach. The Civilian Conservation Corps had to construct this massive body of water, in addition to the large dam that now contains and holds back the water fed into the lake by Hungry Mother Creek. The large and impressive spillway of the dam is a great location to hear the thunderous roar of the water flowing down from the lake as well as a great location to take pictures! On any given day in the summer, you will find people here, or elsewhere along the perimeter of the lake, casting fishing lines. The lake features a boat ramp that allows fishermen to come and bring their own lake-faring vessels out for adventure and relaxation!
The Lake Loop Trail at Hungry Mother State Park
Photo By: Zach Champ
Hungry Mother State Park features several hiking trails including a lake loop trail and a hiking trail that leads to the summit of the park’s famous mountain, Molly’s Knob. The Lake Loop Trail is long- approximately 5.7 miles in length. However, it is perhaps one of the most exciting and adventurous trails in the whole park! Adjacent to the lake’s edge throughout most of the hike, the trail takes you into the heart of the park’s mountains through a habitat that truly looks exotic! For some reason, Rhododendron trees dominate the area, so walking through the trail is like walking through a strange tropical jungle, especially during the summertime when the tree’s flowering blossoms are in bloom!
The Molly’s Knob Summit Trail is a few miles long, and for the first half is an all uphill journey. If you are not used to hiking it can be a quite challenging experience, but the vista at the end of the trail is well worth it! At the summit there is a scenic overlook of the surrounding valleys and fields of Smyth and Tazewell Counties, going as far as the eye can see and with gentle green hills bobbing along the horizon. You can take in this beautiful sight while resting on a pair of wooden benches.
The Scenic Overlook at the top of Molly's Knob
Photo By: Zach Champ
There are several fun activities available at the park. One popular activity is Geocaching! For those who are unfamiliar with what geocaching is, it’s basically a fancy modern version of hide and seek, but using land navigation coordinates to explore areas and find hidden treasures! There are several Geocache locations in the park that have unique and interesting prizes. Hoodie Goodies can give you a hint and say that one of the Geocaches locations is at the vista overlook at the Molly’s Knob Summit! To learn more about Geocaching at Hungry Mother State Park you will need to visit the Visitor’s Center at the park entrance and pick up a guide booklet. It has all the instructions and coordinates for the Geocache locations. Hungry Mother State Park also has some of the gnarliest Bike Trails in Southwest Virginia! If you love mountain biking you will definitely want to bring your bike and gear.
You can download a trail guide for the park from this link on the Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation website here:
FAMILY FUN FOR CAMPING & VACATIONING!
There are plenty of camping amenities available at Hungry Mother State Park for people of varying levels of outdoors experience. The park features expertly crafted timber frame 2-3-bedroom cabins built by the CCC that are furnished and come with electricity and full kitchen. There is also a six-bedroom lodge for larger groups and private parties.
Photo Courtesy via DCR Virginia Website
For those who like the call of the outdoors, there are also traditional camping pads with electrical and water access available in the State Park. These are conveniently located next to Hungry Mother Creek and to several trailheads!
Camp Burson is located at the entrance of the park and provides camping spaces for visitors with recreational vehicles. These spaces come with water and electrical access. There are also newly constructed Yurt campsites at Camp Burson that visitors can rent out for the night or weekend! These Yurts were built by AmeriCorps volunteers who served in a modern-day program modeled off the original Civilian Conservation Corps. The Yurts are pretty elegant, and come furnished with a bed, couch, and tables; but they do not have electricity or kitchen amenities. They are part of the new ‘glamping’ or glamour camping trend that is becoming popular in several state parks.
One of the Yurts at Hungry Mother State Park with ADA Access
Photo By: Zach Champ
For those looking for a wonderful place to travel to for summer vacation, Hungry Mother State Park and Southwest Virginia are a great destination that’s only a day’s drive from the nation’s capital in Washington D.C! Hungry Mother State Park is guaranteed to provide a unique adventure and leave you with positive memories that will make you want to come back again and again!
For more information on Hungry Mother State Park, for travel directions, and for seasonal camping passes visit: