Despite state of emergency over wildfires, hikers enjoy splendor of Shenandoah National Park

Many hikers and visitors to one of the region’s most popular outdoor destinations, located within the eastern boundaries of Shenandoah National Park, weren’t aware — or deterred — Wednesday, to learn of the still-burning wildfire that began Oct. 24 near the town of Syria in Madison County, Virginia, and has spread to 2,800 acres of private and state land, including the edge of the national park.

Shenandoah National Park implemented a complete fire ban Tuesday, including wood and charcoal fires in picnic areas, campgrounds, shelters and other locations where fires are usually permitted.

Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin declared a state of emergency to mobilize more resources and deploy staff and equipment in response to the fire and another wildfire in Patrick County in southern Virginia.

At times, since the fire began and spread, Old Rag and nearby Whiteoak Canyon “are impacted by dense smoke which may reach ‘Unhealthy’ to ‘Very Unhealthy’ levels,” according to guidance on the National Park Service website. “These are strenuous trails requiring prolonged heavy exertion.”

“I’m not smelling anything,” said a visitor, who had water bottles as he began his first hike to the top of Old Rag, which tops out at the 3,284 feet.

“There’s a faint undercurrent of smells that’s just a natural wood smell, but it’s not anything that’s intrusive,” said a woman hiking with him. She said she’s been to the top of the mountain a half-dozen times.

They were not aware of the ongoing fire, but they weren’t surprised to hear of it.

“Everything’s a little bit drier this time of the year,” he said.

His companion enjoyed a secondary benefit of the pleasant November weather, and the midweek hike.

“Usually it’s very, very packed — there’s a lot of room right now for all of us to kind of enjoy the space,” she said.


One hiker, visiting from Pennsylvania with his wife, has hiked Old Rag several times before, with his Boy Scout troop.

“The timing is great with the fall foliage, and it’s always been a terrific hike,” he said.

“The weather today — we got lucky,” added his wife, as she began her first ascent of Old Rag.

The couple hadn’t heard of the ongoing fire.

“Wildfire is part of the normal environment,” said the husband. “You can try to mitigate it, to a certain extent, and try not to exacerbate it.”

Depending upon wind and weather conditions, hikers on Old Rag face the possibility of encountering wildfire smoke.

The couple said they plan to finish the hike to the top of the mountain despite the risk of smoke.

“Oh yeah, we’re going to the top — we’re here,” she laughed.

Her husband said the trek will be worth it. “The rocks on top are fantastic. With the views, you see everything below you in the valley. It’s really spectacular.”





Neal Augenstein

Neal Augenstein has been a reporter at WTOP since 1997. Through the years, Neal has covered many of the crimes and trials that have gripped the region. Neal's been pleased to receive awards over the years for hard news, feature reporting, use of sound and sports.

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