One of our area’s greatest treasures is the Ivy Creek Natural Area (ICNA), a 215-acre preserve bordering the South Fork Rivanna Reservoir, which is located off Earlysville Road – just down the road from the Rock Store on the way to the Reservoir.
Long a destination for those who really enjoy a walk in the woods nearer to Charlottesville, the preserve is a “mix of upland woods, pine stands, open fields, streams, and two miles of shoreline. Its rolling hills and diverse habitats make it an ideal site to learn about the rich natural history characteristic of Central Virginia and has made Ivy Creek a favorite destination for visitors and community alike.”
African American History
ICNA is an official site on the Virginia African American Heritage Trail in recognition of its rich social and agricultural history dating back to 1870 when former slave Hugh Carr purchased the land as a family farm.
The barn was built in the late 1930s by Conly Greer on River View Farm as a modern, up-to-date facility. It housed horses, cows, and later pigs, and the winter food supply necessary for successful livestock farming.
Conly Greer, an agricultural extension agent in Albemarle County, also used it as a model for other farms in the area. The barn’s construction was unique in part because trees growing on the farm, sawn into lumber by a portable sawmill, provided the building material. The barn has been restored to resemble what we believe is its original design while maintaining openness and room for exhibits and demonstrations.
The land was in the Carr and Greer family for a century before becoming the ICNA. A free take-home brochure celebrating this incredible story can be found at the kiosk at ICNA and on the ICF website.
The barn is open every Saturday and Sunday afternoon from 2 to 4 pm from April until Thanksgiving. The barn is one of the highlights of the field trip program – it is in the barn where the rich African American history celebrated by the Foundation comes to life for the children.
There are hands-on displays of skulls, nests, bones, pelts and feathers, seasonal displays of spring wildflowers, migrating birds and tree flowers. Finally, there are displays about year-round wildlife fauna and flora as well as local and family history. The barn is also the only barn on the African American Heritage Trail built by a free African American in Virginia, and possibly the East Coast.
ICNA & ICF History
According to ICNA’s website, in the fall of 1975 The Nature Conservancy (TNC) contracted to buy the 80-acre Riverview Farm along Ivy Creek, which it recognized as a place of beauty and ecological integrity, as well as a good opportunity to preserve green space in a rapidly urbanizing section of Albemarle County.
The local TNC Project committee, led by Babs Conant, maintained oversight of the land, upgrading the house and grounds. TNC worked with Charlottesville and Albemarle to help procure federal funds to purchase the land as a natural area to be owned and managed jointly by the city and the county.
When Conant left Charlottesville for New York State in March 1978, she expressed her hope that the citizen group she organized and sustained would serve as an advisory committee to the city and county after the land transfer occurred. On October 30 of that same year, title to the Preserve was passed to the city and county, and it became known as the Ivy Creek Natural Area.
By 1981, with the aid of federal grants, an additional 97 acres of former farmland was bought and that, along with 38 acres of City-owned land bordering the reservoir, was added to the Natural Area, bringing ICNA to its present size of 215 acres — approximately the original boundaries of Riverview Farm.
Now jointly owned by Albemarle County and the City of Charlottesville, and managed by the ICF, the land has been set aside in perpetuity for free public use as an unspoiled natural area.
Miles of Walking Trails
Eleven trails through diverse habitat and of varying difficulty allow young and old alike to take either a leisurely or a challenging hike on a visit to ICNA.
A network of more than seven miles of walking trails, designed and maintained by the Ivy Creek Foundation (ICF), leaves large areas of natural habitat undisturbed. The 1.5 mile Central Red Trail leads to and from the parking lot and barn. All other trails are off the Red Trail. A ¾ mile paved trail is provided for visitors with special needs. Pick up a free trail map at the information kiosk, which is just north of the parking lot.
The parking lot, a ¾ mile paved path, rest rooms, barn, and Education Building are all wheelchair-accessible.
Watching for Wildlife
Benches in the Quiet Observation Area, located along the level trail and across from the barn, are the perfect spot to watch the birds that come to the nest boxes, feeders, and bird fountain.
A Watchable Wildlife Area was created in 1989 as a project to demonstrate how land can be enhanced to attract wildlife. The area is located behind the information kiosk between the parking lot and the restrooms and is bordered on two sides by the handicap accessible level trail.
The ICF planted native trees and shrubs, shows an annual grain plot, and has created brush-piles and rock piles to increase wildlife observation opportunities. A large bat shelter was added to the Watchable Wildlife Area in 2000 by Eagle Scout Daniel Perry.
Native grassland restoration began in the year 2000 in the hay fields located to the south of the parking lot and to the north of the Barn. Fescue in the former hay fields was eradicated and replaced with native warm season grasses to provide a better habitat for wildlife. The two fields are burned in alternate years to retard the successional growth of woody plants. Both areas can be observed from the handicap accessible trail or parking lot.
Old Field habitat at ICNA is maintained on two meadows located off the Central Red Trail. Bushhogging every other year discourages woody growth and allows for more wildflower and wildlife diversity.
Activities & The Education Building
ICF offers more than 40 public nature walks and programs each year on the natural history of the area. All programs are free and open to the public, and it maintains and makes available to the public: lists, brochures and educational materials on the plants and animals of the ICNA.
The ICF Education Building is an all-weather facility of sustainable design with a capacity of 65 persons. Use of the Education Building is free of charge to state and local community organizations for environmental meetings and workshops. Please consult the rules for use of the Education Building before inquiring as to its availability.
Constructed by ICF in 1997, the Education Building is an all-weather facility of sustainable design for day and evening use. This facility has allowed ICF to broaden the scope of its public programs, provide a year-round facility for training of volunteer school guides, and enabled the Foundation to develop programs to enhance its School Tour program.
In 2001, Phil Stokes undertook the task of landscaping the area behind the rock wall with native wildflowers and shrubs. Stokes used plants rescued from development projects as well as some from his own garden collection.
Natural History Library
In August 2008, longtime Ivy Creek supporter Ted Scott donated his life-long collection of natural history books (with link to Excel spread sheet). Appointments can be made to explore this collection and other resources by emailing director@ivycreekfoundation.
Ivy Creek Field Trips
Each year during the fall and spring, the ICF provides free nature-based field trips. Each nature “tour” has a specific theme that reflects the season and the Virginia Science Standards of Learning.
The team of trained volunteer nature guides follow this theme as they lead the children on trails through the woods and fields of the ICNA. Groups of schoolchildren are divided into small tours of 10 or less to allow maximum contact with nature and the material to be studied.
Most field trips are on Monday, Thursday and Friday mornings and scheduled to last for one hour. Each group is led by a volunteer guide, and each school provides at least one adult supervisor chaperone for each group of ten students.
Little Naturalists (formerly Toddler Time) is an “educational play date” for the under-K crowd. Geared toward 3-5-year-olds who each come with their chaperone/parents, the content is always fresh and age-appropriate, and it has a high rate of repeat attendees.
With an average class of 20 children per month, and recently expanded to two days per month: second Mondays and last Thursdays, from 10 to 11:30 am. It is run by volunteers who have a particular affinity for working with this age group and is facilitated by the Education Coordinator.
Boys & Girls Club Program/K-12 Supplemental Program
This initiative was created in response to a Strategic Plan goal to offer an afterschool alternative to the Field Trips. Originally piloted in Spring 2014, one session began with the Southwood Boys & Girls Club using Diana Foster’s Forest Discoveries program.
It was expanded in Summer 2015 to include three local Boys & Girls Clubs with volunteers provided by Ivy Creek and the Rivanna Master Naturalists working with Project Wet and Project Wild materials.
Both sets of classes offered to date featured nature- and water-centric education, e.g., teaching children about wetlands ecology and aquatic habitats.
ICF-Generated Public Programs
In addition to the above, ICNA provides approximately 30 public programs per year. Many of these are nature walks of one form or another, such as Butterfly Walks, Learning Native Trees, Songs of Frogs & Toads, The Dragonflies of Ivy Creek, Insects of the Night, and Animal Tracks. Frequently these groups gather at the Education Building for a brief (15 minutes) introduction before setting out on their exploration with one or more guides.
Registration is now open for the popular Charlottesville Area Tree Stewards training class. They will be held on 12 Tuesday mornings from September 5 to November 21 at ICNA. Classes are taught by certified arborists, foresters, tree and forestry experts, tree stewards, and others. Tuition is $125 and includes all books and materials. Registration will remain open until August 30, 2017.
For general information, contact: (434) 973-7772 (voicemail checked once daily). Office Hours are in the Education Building – Monday through Thursday, 12:30 – 5:30 pm. Closed on federal holidays.