Most people who head to Markham like to stop at Stribling Orchard or Hartland Farm, where apples, peaches and berries grow, and can be picked as part of a family outing.
While those farms are sizable, one of the largest pieces of public land in Fauquier County looms just nearby, the G. Richard Thompson Wildlife Management Area, which takes up some 4,000 acres in Fauquier, Warren and Clarke counties.
My wife, Lisa, and I went for a hike at Thompson recently, and found a more remote hiking experience than you’d see at neighboring Sky Meadows State Park.
We drove down Leeds Manor Road to Lake Thompson, then used a cellphone photo I’d taken of the trail map on Thompson’s website to navigate a semi-strenuous 2½-hour route that took us up to the Appalachian Trail for a half-mile, then back down to the other side of the lake.
The first 90 minutes were continually uphill. On an 88-degree day, that could have been brutal, but the canopy of mature forest kept the sun off us for the most part, and the climb was never agonizingly steep.
After passing behind a winery, the trail followed an old logging road, allowing us to walk side-by-side. We hit the Appalachian Trail and turned right on it for 20 minutes, then hit another junction and headed down.
For the last part of the trail, we felt like we were in the Philippines or New Guinea. Lush vegetation brushed our legs, causing Lisa to periodically check for ticks. I found one crawling on my shoes earlier in the hike.
We descended to find a solo fisherman on the lake, two girls packing up a boat, and a family lingering near the waterside.
Our conclusion was that this was a far different hiking experience then nearby Sky Meadows. It was more forested, more remote, less populated and with a lot less signage.
Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries staff regularly visit the wildlife management area (WMA), focusing their activities on updating signage, road maintenance and law enforcement, said the VDGIF’s Joe Ferdinandsen, who co-manages the site as well as the C.F. Phelps Wildlife Management Area in southern Fauquier County, and several others.
“We don’t offer the amenities of a state park or local or national park. We offer the same experience. We’re not as facility intensive,” said Ferdinandsen, who noted there are no trail markings other than the white blazes of the Appalachian Trail, which runs for about 3 miles along the upper portion of the property.
But the WMA, purchased mostly in 1971, is multi-dimensional.
Besides hunting, fishing, hiking and horseback riding, its lands are legendary to native plant lovers, who come from around the world for the spring trilliums, accessed from the upper parking areas in Linden. From late April to early May, white, pink and lavender trilliums blanket almost 2 square miles of forest floor.
“The wildflower folks are regular and avid visitors. In the middle of deer season, a nice day will bring a large crowd. The stocked trout fishing at the lake, which offers wonderful scenery, especially during the fall and winter, is convenient for many anglers in Northern Virginia. It has a pretty broad appeal,” said Ferdinandsen.
The lake is classified as a Category A trout water and sees eight stockings between Oct. 1 and May 31. As far as hiking or hunting, the size of the WMA makes it easier to be alone.
Ferdinandsen isn’t sure exactly how many visitors Thompson gets, saying he’d have to check a 10-year old study, but he appreciates the attention.
“Thanks for getting the word out. Papers don’t always mention our areas,” added Ferdinandsen.