Go OutsideHats Off to Henry Heatwole

Hats Off to Henry Heatwole

Big Meadows Lodge as it looked in ’67 – Photo by Henry Heatwole as featured at Guide to SNP

In my last post I mentioned that I had come across a book introduced to me by Patrick Fritz of Shenandoah National Park. But after finding that the book had been converted to the web, I decided I couldn’t wait to put this information up for everyone to check out, if you haven’t already.

Back in the 60s and 70s there weren’t many other people who could have claimed to be more attuned to the lush and lively forests of Shenandoah National Park than a man named Henry Heatwole. Heatwole enjoyed following the tradition of his family by frequenting the mountains of Virginia with his own wife and children for years, mostly visiting Shenandoah National Park. Throughout many of those years he and his wife Milly (who assisted Heatwole immensely with his research and exercised her own interest in botany), would spend nine months or so of each year living out of a travel trailer parked at Big Meadows, researching, documenting, and hiking, before voyaging southwest to Mexico for the winters.

Heatwole's Cameras
Camera equipment Heatwole used for close-up photography in Shenandoah

He observed every detail of every trail and documented them by way of film and pen with beautiful precision on both ends. Eventually both he and Milly came to volunteer for the park helping seasonal naturalists with their campfire talks and assisting in modernizing the audio facilities at the Big Meadows Visitor Center. Spending so much time at the park, it became apparent that he should write a book on the subject. In 1978 the Shenandoah National Park Association (then the Shenandoah Natural History Association),  published the first edition of his book, A Guide to Shenandoah National Park and Skyline Drive, a book which he revised four times before passing in 1989.

Loaded with outstanding trail recommendations and notes on nearly every aspect of the park from geology to history to flora and fauna, the book is an indispensable relic—despite being out of print—and serves as a preferred handbook to park rangers and employees of Shenandoah National Park as well as the thousands who bought it in it’s day. The effort to preserve the book continues, spearheaded by Heawole’s son Tony and ex-SNPA board member Kevin Heanue. The SNPA and the Potomac Appalachian Trail Club got together (with the help of family, friends, and many others) and trekked the park in sections, revising the book yet again to reflect the changing landscapes, only this time publishing via the internet where the information exists on their website and can be more easily updated in the future and utilized by anyone.

Leaf Beetle
Heatwole's photograph of a Leaf Beetle at Shenandoah

During revisions, extra care has been taken to preserve Heatwole’s original words and the essence of his style—even his hand drawn maps—while taking the necessary changes into account, and his legendary Shenandoah manual lives on. The recommended hikes section is outstanding, but you may also find great joy (as I did) in some of his film photography which has been uploaded and archived as well, most of which he once featured in his 70s Shenandoah slideshow called the “Shenandoah Sampler.”

All in all, a great resource from a great man who’s work lives on. Happy trails.

Places to Go, Things to See: