Park Going ‘Wild About Shenandoah’

Posted: May 2, 2013

The annual two-day Wildflower Weekend will be held May 4-5 at Shenandoah National Park. (Photo by Courtesy Photo / Ann and Rob Simpson)
During the annual two-day Wildflower Weekend at Shenandoah National park, hikers may observe the Shenandoah salamander. (Photo by Courtesy Photo / Ann and Rob Simpson)
With more than 1,300 species of plants, picking a favorite flower at Shenandoah National Park isn’t as easy as it sounds. Even Ann Simpson, who has been volunteering at the park for years, pauses for a minute before answering.

“I have to say the skunk cabbage, it smells like rotting flesh and attracts flies,” she says. “But it blooms in January and it gives off chemicals that melt the snow around it. It’s amazing!”

With her enthusiasm for even a less-than-fragrant plant, it should come as no surprise that Ann, as well as her husband Rob, volunteer to lead various programs during Wildflower Weekend — an annual two-day event held May 4-5 at SNP.

The Simpsons, both biology professors at Lord Fairfax Community College, enjoy sharing their scientific knowledge with others.

“We enjoy teaching people about nature,” says Rob. “The more people understand, the more they’ll protect the wildlife and the environment.”

This year, the couple will be leading “Wild about Shenandoah,” a program about the connection between flowers and animals. Participants will view a PowerPoint presentation and then take a ½ mile hike to look for wildlife.

According to the Simpsons, hikers should keep their eyes peeled for monarch butterflies, raccoons, white-tailed deer and the Shenandoah salamander. Less expected encounters, however, are always a possibility.

“We led a hike one year early in the morning and our entire tour got side-tracked by a bear in a tree!” Ann recalls.

During another program, “Lure of the Limberlost,” the Simpsons will take their group on a one-mile hike to photograph flowers.

Participants may see a wide range of species, including pink or yellow lady slippers, 14 types of violets, wild geraniums, white trilliums, bloodroot, spring beauties or wild ginger.

Due to the unpredictability of nature, Mara Meisel, the park ranger in charge of Wildflower Weekend, encourages all visitors to keep an open mind.

“You might not see the specific wildflower you’re expecting, but you could still see something unexpected that’s beautiful,” she says.

While Meisel loves wildflowers and compares the event to a treasure hunt, she also believes it serves a more important purpose.

The ultimate point of the programs is to educate the public about the interdependency that exists among plants, insects, animals and people.

“It helps people understand that wildflowers don’t exist in a vacuum — they’re connected to so many other things,” she explains. “The value of all those connections is an important concept to understand.”

Contact Katie King at 574-6271 or

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