Sky Meadows State Park
Two databases have been used for information pertaining to Fauquier
County and Sky Meadows State Park: 1) the most recent Fauquier
County Comprehensive Plan, Physical Characteristics & Natural and
Historic Resources section , and 2) the current Sky Meadows State
Park Resource Management Plan. Both documents have been slightly
edited and reformatted.
The County spans three geological provinces - the Blue Ridge, the
Culpeper (Triassic Basin), and the Piedmont. The northwestern half
of the County, which is dominated by the Blue Ridge, is characteriz-
ed by mountainous and rolling terrain, while the central portion,
which is dominated by the Culpeper Basin, is nearly level to gently
rolling. The extreme southeastern portion, which is dominated by
the Piedmont, is gently rolling to rolling in nature. Forest vegetation
covers approximately one-third of the County's land area, while the
remainder is largely open land utilized for a variety of agricultural
Fauquier County covers a geologically diverse area which manifests
itself in a variety of unique and scenic landforms. The County is di-
vided into three geological provinces including the Blue Ridge Anti-
clinorium, the Culpeper Basin, and the Piedmont Province. The Blue
Ridge runs from the Blue Ridge Mountains to Pond Maintain and
Baldwin Ridge. To the east of the Blue Ridge lies the Culpeper Basin.
East of the Culpeper Basin lies the deeply weathered, rolling lands
of the Piedmont Province. Each geologic formation has a unique
geological history and has a distinctive landscape signature. Each
area also consists of a different assortment of rocks and minerals
which are valuable resources to the County.
All surface water in Fauquier County, with the exception of some
water flowing to the Rappahannock River, originates within the
County. The Rappahannock River, which has its headwaters in the
extreme western portion of the County, the centerline of which
forms the County's western boundary, drains large areas to the west
of the County and, therefore, not all of the water in the Rappahan-
nock originates within the County. The characteristics of the soils
and parent materials in Fauquier County reflect the varied surface
geology of the County and include upland, terrace land, old colluvial
slope, recent colluvial slope, and bottom land soil groupings. The
quality of soil for agricultural and forestal purposes varies greatly
within the County; however, much of the land area is well suited for
agricultural and forestal production.
Sky Meadows State Park
Physical and Abiotic Factors
Terrestrial and Aquatic Communities
Natural Heritage Resources
Physical and Abiotic Factors
Sky Meadows State Park is situated in the rolling foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains. The lowest elevation is about 600 feet, which is in the central area of the park near Route 17. Elevations rise westward to about 1,840 feet at the top of the Blue Ridge and eastward to about 1,020 feet near the top of Lost Mountain.
The most distinct natural features of the park are the Blue Ridge Mountains. Sky Meadows is situated in the Piedmont Valley, which is bounded on the west by the Blue Ridge and the east by Bull Run Mountains. The peak of Lost Mountain on the eastern edge of the park reaches 1,041 feet.. Gap Run flows through the park, supplying drainage for the northern area of the park. Settles’ Run provides drainage for the western section and flows into Gap Run near Route 17. Collins branch provides drainage in the eastern section of the park and eventually flows into Gap Run. The park contains seven ponds, one of which is almost an acre in size and is used for public fishing. The other six ponds were formally cattle ponds but are now fenced off. Two small wetland ponds were developed in 1995.
Sky Meadows State Park straddles the boundary of the Blue Ridge and Piedmont Provinces. Bedrock within the park range in age from the Late Proterozoic to the Early Cambrian in age.
Underlying the park are granitic rocks that were formed during a mountain building event called the Grenville Orogeny about 1.2 to 1.0 billion years ago that formed an early continental mass that scientists refer to as Rodinia. Although there are varying names and ages given to the granitic rocks of this age found throughout the area, in Virginia these rocks formed during the Grenville orogeny are collectively referred to as “Basement” rocks. They have been metamorphosed over their history by heat and pressure. These Basement Rocks are exposed to the east of the ridge in the park.
On the Blue Ridge on the western side of the park, the granitic rocks are overlain by metamorphosed sedimentary rocks called the Swift Run Formation. Uplift of those ancient granitic rocks as much as 2,000 feet and subsequent erosion led to deposition of sediments on top of these Grenville age granitic rocks.
On top of the Swift Run along the top of the Blue Ridge, lies a metamorphosed basaltic lava called the Catoctin Greenstone. After the Swift Run deposition, but still in the late Pre-Cambrian or early Cambrian (570-550 million years ago), a rift valley developed as the old continent split apart and basaltic lava poured onto the surface. These massive outpourings onto the surface laid down as much as 2000 feet of lava. Pushing up through dikes in the older granitic rocks and sediments of the Swift Run, the lava modified the older rocks as it forced its way upward, cracking and heating these rocks and then coming to rest above them.
Transforming these layers of hardened lava into the Catoctin Greenstones of the Blue Ridge was the result of a series of continental plate collisions and mountain building events. Around 350 million years ago the Catoctin basalt was pushed down six-ten miles, deep enough to be metamorphosed by heat and pressure into greenstone, so called because of its greenish color.
The Blue Ridge mountain we see today on the western boundary of the park is the result of a continental collision between the African and North American Plate which occurred about 300 million years ago creating a continental mass referred to as Pangea. The great mountain building event called the Allegheny Orogeny, thrust the rocks of our current day Blue Ridge to the west. As huge continental plates that form the crust of the Earth collided, they shoved large sections of rocks on top of each other, resting older rocks on younger rocks. Some of the rocks of the Blue Ridge were folded up like wrinkles in a throw rug. The rocks that you stand on in the park were shoved here from 40-60 to the East.
Today, these mountains, perhaps once as tall as the Himalayas, are gradually being worn down through ongoing erosion from wind, water and chemical weathering. The more resistant metamorphosed rocks of the Grenville age Granites and the Catoctin lavas now hold up most of the ridges of the Blue Ridge we see in Virginia. Here in the park, it is the Catoctin greenstones, those ancient lava flows that once rose 2000 feet above the surface, were subsequently buried deep within the Earth and then thrust up again, that cap the top of the ridge above Sky Meadows.
The soils occurring in Sky Meadows State Park are typical of those found
in this area of the Blue Ridge Mountains. The Soil Survey for Fauquier
County classifies the soils of the park into four groups based on their
location in the landscape. The four groups are: (1) soils of the uplands,
(2) soils of the recent colluvial slopes, (3) soils of the bottomlands, and (4) miscellaneous land types.
The upland soils of Sky Meadows are soils which have developed in place
from residuum, weathered from the underlying bedrock. They have prop-
erties which can be closely related to the character of the parent rock and
are grouped by the type rock from which they are derived.
The upland soils within the park fall into five categories:
1) Soils developed over granitic rock, granite, granite gneiss, or schistose
granite. Brandywine loam (both hilly phase and rolling phase), gritty loam,
and Chester loam were developed from these rocks.
2) Soils developed over massive greenstone of diabase dikes in granite.
These soils are Eubanks silt loam, rolling phase; Eubank stony silt loam,
rolling phase; and Chester loam-Eubanks silt loam, rolling phase.
3) Soils developed over schistose greenstone dikes in granite. Chester-
Brandywine loams, rolling phases, are the only soil of this type located in
4) Soils developed over greenstone. Catoctin, Clifton, and Myersville-
Orange soils were developed from this rock.
5) Soils developed over arkosic-quartzite and conglomerate. Only the
Louisburg soils were developed.
Recent Colluvial Slopes
Soils of the recent colluvial slopes are those local deposits that consist of
material that has been washed from adjoining upland slopes. These soils
have not been in place long enough to develop distinguishable horizons.
Two soils of this type, Seneca loam and Starr silt loam, are found in Sky
Soils of the bottomlands have been deposited by streams and are located
in areas near streams which flood periodically. These soils also do not have
well-defined subsoil horizons. Chewacla silt loam and Wehadkee silt loam
are bottomland soils in the park.
Miscellaneous Land Types
The final grouping of Sky Meadows’ soils is more correctly identified as a
land type rather than a soil type because it contains materials that are prim-
arily related by having a common characteristic limiting agriculture and other
potential development. The only land type found at Sky Meadows that falls
into this category is the stony soil classification. Stony soils are characterized
by the presence of outcrops of bedrock and loose rocks in the surface soil and
throughout the profile.
The climate of Sky Meadows State Park is modified continental with mild
winters and warm, humid summers. The mountains, Chesapeake Bay, and
Atlantic Ocean, along with the park’s latitude and location on the North
American continent, are major factors controlling the climate. The moun-
tains produce various steering, blocking, and modifying effects on storms
and air masses. The large open bodies of water, which are slow to react to
atmospheric changes, contribute to the humid summers and mild winters.
Mean annual temperatures vary slightly from year to year, with an average
of 51 degrees Fahrenheit. May and September are relatively warm, even
though temperatures below freezing have been observed during both months.
Daytime highs during the cold season are usually in the upper 30s, with
nighttime temperatures in the low 20s. Maximum temperatures in the
middle 70s and minimum temperatures as low as –8 degrees are the ex-
tremes during the winter season. Daytime highs during summer are usually
around 80 and nighttime lows are in the low 60s. Maximum temperatures
up to 98 degrees and minimum temperatures in the low 40s are the ex-
tremes during July and August. The growing season, defined as the period
between the average date of the last freezing temperature in spring (April
24) and the average date of the first freeze in fall (October 19), is 178 days.
Freezing temperatures have occurred as late as May 27 in the spring, and
as early as September 21 in the fall. This growing season is long enough to
allow proper maturity of a large variety of crops.
Precipitation is well distributed throughout the year with the maximum in
June and the minimum in February. Monthly amounts vary from less than
¼ inch up to 14.71 inches. The highest daily total of almost 8 inches occur-
red during July 1956. Thunderstorm activity is present almost forty days
each year, which is comparative to the state average. The average yearly
precipitation is 37.5 inches. In winter, some of the precipitation occurs as
snow. The average snowfall is around 30 inches a year, but yearly amounts
are extremely variable, ranging from zero to almost 63 inches.
South to southwest winds predominate but with a secondary maximum fre-
quency from a northerly direction most months, which generally reflects
the progression of weather systems across the state. The topography also
affects wind direction, with the air tending to flow parallel to the moun-
tain ridges. Relative humidity varies inversely with temperatures, being
high in the morning and low in the afternoon.
Hurricanes and other tropical disturbances occasionally move far enough
inland to affect Sky Meadows and the surrounding areas. They have gen-
erally lost their identity as hurricanes by this time, remaining as low-
pressure centers usually producing heavy rains, strong winds, and hail.
Although storm damage has occurred in the park from all these factors,
it is uncommon. The fire danger season occurs between February 15 and
April 30 of each year.
Air quality is monitored by the Department of Air Pollution Control. Sky
Meadows State Park is located in Region IV; however, the closest mon-
itoring stations for most pollutants are located in Region II. A site in
Front Royal, Virginia collects data on PM10 and Total Suspended
Particles (TSP). Dickey Ridge in Shenandoah National Park collects
data on nitrogen dioxide, ozone, and sulfur dioxide. Phelps Wildlife
Management Area in Fauquier County also collects information on ozone.
The closet monitoring stations for lead and carbon monoxide are in Fairfax.
Air quality in this area appears to be good, probably due to the rural and
forested nature of the area. TSP concentrations are below the primary
and secondary standards set by the State Air Pollution Control Board.
The three year trend in TSP has increased from 48 to 54 micrograms per
cubic meter from 1985-1988; the measurements changed to matter with
an aerodynamic diameter less than or equal to 10 micrometers. The PM10
count rose 9 micrometers in 1988-89. Lead and carbon monoxide levels
are high in Fairfax, but that does not necessarily reflect on the park, due
to the metropolitan qualities of the environment in Fairfax. The levels at
Dickey Ridge, which are more reflective of Sky Meadows, are well below
the standards set by the board. The ozone level exceeded acceptable levels
twice in 1988 at Dickey Ridge and once a year in 1983,1984, 1987, and 1988
at Phelps Wildlife Management Area. Since the park is between these two
locations, it can be surmised that the ozone levels here exceed acceptable
standards at certain times.
Increased development may result in an increase in air pollution problems
for this area. Since the impact of urban development is felt far away from
the source, there may be little the park can do to protect air quality.
Sky Meadows State Park is drained by Gap Run and several of its tribu-
taries. Gap Run is formed by the fishing pond’s overflow as well as the
overflow from two smaller ponds located to the south and southwest of
the maintenance shop facility. The second stream in the park is Settle’s
Run, also known as Snowden’s Branch, and is created within the park’s
watershed. It empties into Gap Run east of Route 17. Although a few of
Gap Run’s headwater streams begin as springs, most of them begin with
ground seepage. Therefore, many of the streams are intermittent, ceasing
to flow during midsummer dry spells. Just west of where the stream cross-
es the park driveway, northwest of the contact station, two main inter-
mittent streams converge. At that point, Gap Run becomes a perennial
stream. It gains volume when it joins Settle’s Run; this confluence is less
than a hundred yards east of Route 17. From there, Gap Run flows through
the natural area on the southwest side of the Maxwelton section, is joined
by a small stream that flows out of a neighbor’s pond, and runs southeast
until it leaves the park.
All seven ponds at Sky Meadows State Park are man-made reservoirs using
earthen dams. Six are small impoundments in the pastures. The seventh,
a one-acre fishing pond, is located near the intersection of Route 17 and the
maintenance shop access road. There are also two small wetland ponds that
were developed in 1995 on the Maxwelton tract.
Hydrology: Water Quality/Pollution
Sky Meadows State Park is located within the Potomac-Shenandoah River
Basin in Virginia, Sub-Basin II. A large portion of the land in this watershed
is in agricultural use. Impacts from agricultural use are most prevalent in
Goose Creek, where elevated levels of bacteria and nitrates can be caused
by agricultural practices.
At the close of the 20th century, Fauquier County officials reported that
there were elevated suspended solids and bacterial levels in the County’s
water supply, as a result of malfunctioning sewage treatment plants,
chronic toxicity levels of lead, elevated arsenic and copper levels in
associated groundwater, high nickel values based on EPA criteria for
fish and water consumption, high nitrate nitrogen levels, and a declining
benthic population, an indication of a general decline in water quality.
Pollution in Fauquier County was contributed from both point sources
(i.e. sewage treatment plants) and non-point sources (primarily agriculture.)
Hydrology: Sources of Potable Water
The original Sky Meadows State Park Master Plan Report notes “informa-
tion from the Water Control Board has indicated a 10 to 15 gallons per
minute ground water rate in the Sky Meadows area. This will be adequate
for using wells to serve all new development in the park.” Wells are current-
ly located in the following places:
1) The maintenance shop and the Timberlake house are being served by a
submersible pump that is located behind the Timberlake house.
2) The Maxwelton residence, with a submersible pump, serving the house
and trail barn.
3) The Park Manager’s residence, with a submersible pump serving the
4) Behind the Ice House/Summer Kitchen, a submersible pump is located,
serving the Visitor Center, Park Offices/public restrooms, and the Mount
A new well is proposed for the Meeting house and new picnic shelter.
Sky Meadows State Park is influenced by several drainage areas, which
have been delineated by the Virginia Water Control Board. The park is
drained primarily by three tributaries of Gap Run. The first tributary
drains 1.63 square miles, including 1.38 square miles within the park.
The second drains a total of 2.47 square miles, 0.3 within the park. The
third tributary drains a 0.03 square mile section of the park. A 0.09
square mile portion drains into a tributary of Crooked Run. Both Gap Run
and Crooked Run are tributaries of Goose Creek, a tributary of the Potomac
River. Gap Run has a total drainage area of 14.88 square miles. Crooked
Run has a total drainage area of 14.6 square miles. Goose Creek has a total
drainage area of 387.06 square miles. The entire Potomac River basin has
a drainage area of 14,699 square miles, lying in parts of four states and the
District of Columbia.
The portion of the park that lies in Clarke County drains into Wright’s
Branch, a tributary of the Shenandoah River. This section of the park
equals 0.06 square mile.
A wetland habitat area is located in the Gap Run Management Subunit of
the park. The soil types in the area are Checacla Silt Loam, and they are
gently sloping. Drainage tiles were installed to dry this area in the 1940s-
50s. These tiles were removed as part of a wetland restoration project.
Coffer dams were constructed and two small ponds were developed. The
ponds will be drained to a minimal level each summer to allow grasses to
become established. They will be allowed to fill in during the fall to attract
water fowl that feed on the grasses. This area will be maintained as a wet-
Terrestrial and Aquatic Communities
In 1985 a botaical survey was taken by students and staff of Lord Fairfax
Community College with assistance from the park staff. Forty-six species
of naturally occurring trees and shrubs were identified within the park. Al-
most thirty more were identified that had been planted. During 2010 -2012,
two separate botanical studies were conducted: 1) a comprehensive park-
wide survey of trees, shrubs, and vines, and 2) more limited survey of forbs/
herbs in the primary visited areas (e.g., trails, old fields, historical areas).
Species of special concern include wildflowers that are rare or uncommon in
the park. They include the columbine (Aquilegia candensis), trout lily
(Erythronium americanum), wild ginger (Asarum canadense), yellow
lady’s slippers (Cypripedium calceolus), pink lady’s slippers (Cypripedium
acaule), large flowered trillium (Trillium grandiflorum), Dutchman’s
breeches (Dicentra cucullaria), Virginia bluebells (Mertensia virginica),
and cardinal flower (Lobelia cardinalis). Recent research may add more
wildflowers of concern, including spotted wintergreen and narrowleaf blue-
eyed grass (Sisyrinchium angustifolium).
Wildlife species of special management concern are the groundhog
(Marmota monax), white-tailed deer (Odocoileus virginiamus), and little
brown myotis (Myotis lucifugus). These three species present problems
within the park and measures have been taken at times to control them.
Groundhogs are of some concern because their holes are hazardous for
vehicles, cows, and horses. Burrows around building foundations have also
created maintenance problems. The little brown bat population has been
a nuisance, roosting on the buildings in the park. We have put up some bat
houses to help keep them out of the buildings (It should be noted that the
current "white-nose syndrome" epidemic may have substantially altered
the situation of the little brown bat). The white-tailed deer population is a
concern, but studies need to be made to determine proper management.
Many distinct habitat types exist within Sky Meadows State Park. These
are divided into terrestrial and aquatic communities.
Forests: Old Field Hardwoods
These areas were once used for agricultural purposes. They have since
been left to revert to forests, with occasional timber harvesting in the past.
The main tree species found in these areas are varieties of oaks. White oak
(Quercus alba), black oak (Quercus velutina), chestnut oak (Quercus
primus) and northern red oak (Quercus ruba) are common species. Other
species found here include tulip tree (Liriodendron tulipifera), green ash
(Fraximus pennsylvanica), and black gum (Nyssa sylvatica). Understory
species indicative of this habitat type include witch hazel (Hamamelis
virginiana), black haw (Viburnum prunifolium), hackberry (Celtis occident-
alis), and serviceberry (Amelanchier arborea).
Forests: Mixed Hardwoods
These areas have always been wooded, unlike the old field hardwoods.
Some timber harvesting has taken place in the past. Species found in this
habitat type are very similar to those found in the old field hardwoods.
Northern red oak, black oak, and scarlet oak (Quercus coccinea), tulip
tree, and mockernut hickory (Carya tomentosa) are typical overstory
species. The understory typically consists of species such as dogwood
(Cornus florida), witch hazel, serviceberry, and sassafrass (Sassafrass
Forests: Bottomland Hardwoods
Typical tree species found in the bottomland hardwood areas of the park
are black locust (Robinia pseudo-acacia), red maple (Acer rubrum), black
oak, sycamore (Plantanus occidentalis), black walnut (Juglans nigra),
black cherry (Prunus serotina), and various species of hickory (Carya
spp.). Common understory species in this habitat type include hackberry,
persimmon (Diospyros virginiana), willow (Salix app.), witch hazel and
Mammals found in the woodland areas of the park include the white-tailed
deer, gray fox (Urocyon cinereoargenteus), raccoon (Procyon lotor), bob-
cat (Lynx rufus), chipmunk (Tamias spp.), and various species of squirrels
Most of the grasslands and pasturelands are used for hay and grazing
purposes. The grasslands are dominated by KY 31 fescue, orchard grass
and some natural grasses. The pasturelands are made up of mainly fescue,
bluegrass and other native species. Herbicide is used to control broad-
leafed weeds, although this practice has a detrimental effect on clover.
A few of the wildlife species that can be found in these areas include the
meadow jumping mouse (Zapus spp.), meadow vole (Microtus spp.),
eastern cottontail (Sylvilagus floridanus), and groundhog.
Aquatic Communities: Streams/Ponds
The one acre man-made fishing pond, located near the intersection of Route
17 and the access road to the maintenance area and the Timberlake house,
is relatively shallow (6’ maximum depth). The pond contains primarily
largemouth bass (Micropterus salmoides) and bluegill (Lepomis macro-
chirus), two desirable sport fish species. Other less desirable species,
such as pumpkinseed sunfish (Lepomis gibbosus), golden shiners
(Notemigonus crysoleucus), white suckers (Catostomus commersoni),
carp (Cyprinus carpio), and brown bullheads (Ictalurus nebulosus) can
also be found in the pond. Sterile grass carp were stocked in 1988 to con-
trol the growth of algae. Catfish have been stocked by the Department of
Game and Inland Fisheries on an irregular annual basis. Mammal species
that could be found in the pond or creeks in the park are beaver (Castor
canadensis) and muskrat (Ondatra zibethica).
An invasive and/or exotic plant species that warrants concern is tree-of-
Heaven (Alianthus altissima) which is growing throughout the park, par-
ticularly along fence-rows, along Snowden Road, and near the campground.
An eradication project was started in 1998 to remove and reduce the
numbers of this tree. Trees were girdled and after several months, the
hazard trees removed. This has not completely prevented sprouting.
Girdling with the application of an herbicide has been more successful.
Nodding or musk thistle (Carduus nutans) and Canada thistle (Circium
arvense) are the most common thistle found in the park in or near the
fence lines of pasture areas. Mowing prior to the opening of the seed pods
has been a preferred control method, although spraying has taken place in
areas of high density. Currently, the park Conservation Plan requires the
cattle operator to carry out this control. Multiflora rose (Rosa multiflora),
an exotic native to Asia, is presently in several locations on the Maxwelton
section of the park. Currently, no control measures are being undertaken.
Garlic mustard (Alliaria officinalis) is crowding out the native herbaceous
plants in several areas of the park. More information on invasive/exotic
plants and animals species can be found in "Plant" and "Animal" sections
of this website.
NATURAL HERITAGE RESOURCES
The Department of Conservation and Recreation, Division of Natural
Heritage Resources (DNH), is responsible for evaluation the resources
within a park that qualifies as Natural Heritage Resources. Natural
Heritage Resources are defined as being habitats of rare, threatened,
or endangered plant and animal species, unique or exemplary natural
communities, or significant geological formations.
There are two bird species that have been observed within Fauquier
County that have been listed as Natural Heritage Resources by the
Division of Natural Heritage. They are upland sandpiper (Bartramia
longicauda) and the bald eagle (Haliaetus leucocephalus). There are
also 5 invertebrate and 25 vascular plant species listed as Natural
Heritage Resources. There are no mammal species on the list. Yellow
avens (Geum allepicum), a rare plant species is found in the park along
the western ridge as confirmed through DNH’s Biological and Conserva-
tion Data System.
There are no known archaeological sites within Sky Meadows State Park,
although no formal survey has been completed. Studies need to be done in
order to avoid destruction of historical areas as a result of construction
within the park.
History plays a major role in the function of Sky Meadows State Park.
The park has many outbuildings dating from the late 18th century. The
log house, constructed in 1798, is the oldest standing structure in the park.
A frame house was constructed at the beginning of the 19th century follow-
ed by a larger stone addition, now the Mount Bleak House/Visitor Center.
Mount Bleak House is furnished with items from the 1860’s. The Boston
Mill Road, a country lane that once connected Paris with the gristmills
along Crooked Run, travels through the park. Other historical sites include
the Snowden House and outbuilding ruins, the site of Sherman’s Mill, an
old home site that is now the campground, the reservoir building, two staff
residences and two other houses. Construction, gardening, and erosion
have yielded hundreds of artifacts. Old stone walls crisscross the park.
Further information on the historical landscapes of the park can be found
in the historical files at Sky Meadows State Park.
Crooked Run Valley