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With altitudes ranging from 1,200 feet near the top of the mountain to a low point of 500 feet, this predominantly steep and hilly preserve features a broad range of habitats. Wildcat Mountain supports a rich variety of plants and animals, including a few coastal and higher-Appalachian species approaching their geographic limits in northern Virginia.
Fauquier County: on the western slopes of Wildcat Mountain in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains
Year-round, dawn to dusk
Moderate to difficult hiking
In the 1960s, the Arundel family gave a large portion of Wildcat Mountain to The Nature Conservancy. Although entirely wooded now, Wildcat Mountain Natural Area has a long history of human use. Aside from patches of mature oak-hickory forests, which were only lightly logged, the preserve was cleared for farms as early as the 18th Century. Old stone walls still meander through the preserve, marking boundary lines and former fields.
Many of the homesteads were abandoned after the Civil War, although some farming and considerable logging continued into the 20th Century. At that time, much of Wildcat Mountain Farm was converted to an apple orchard. However, all logging and farming ceased on the western slope in the 1940s.
Before cultivation or extensive logging, most of the mountain was probably a forest of beech, oak and American chestnut. However, in the 1920s a devastating blight killed most of the American chestnuts. Their loss brought economic disaster to many rural people who depended on the sale or use of the nuts, wood and bark (for tannin). The impact on wildlife was significant as well, since chestnut was a major food source.
Natural succession was well under way at the time the preserve was donated to the Conservancy. Smaller, adjacent portions have been donated and added onto the Wildcat Mountain preserve since then, allowing additional access for visitors to the preserve.
Planning a visit to Wildcat Mountain? Before your trip, download our self-guided audio tour to your handheld device. It's like having a naturalist in your pocket!
Typical wildlife of the region flourish here, especially red and gray fox, bobcat, deer, skunk, gray and fox squirrel, raccoon, and small mammals. Black bears wander through occasionally, and 186 species of birds have been recorded in the preserve.
Older stands of large oak and hickory alternate with stands of pine and younger forest. A new ecosystem of hickories, beech, and oak has evolved through succession. Formerly cleared areas, marked by pine, are giving way to hardwoods in most instances; last stages of field succession are still visible in others. Redbud, dogwood, hackberry, sassafras and wild cherry grow along fringe areas adjacent to neighboring farms.
Download a trail map of Wildcat Mountain Natural Area (pdf)
This is a popular preserve and parking is very limited. Please make an effort to carpool to reduce the number of cars in the parking lot. If the parking lot is full, please do not park on the side of the road. This is private property and you are blocking our neighbors’ access to their homes.
For information, contact the Virginia office at (434) 295-6106.
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