Saturday, August 27, 2016

Episode 331 (8-29-16): Present and Past along Passage Creek in Fort Valley

CLICK HERE to listen to episode audio (4:41)

Transcript of audio, notes on the audio, images, and additional information follow below.

All Web addresses mentioned were functional as of 8-26-16.


From the Cumberland Gap to the Atlantic Ocean, this is Virginia Water Radio for the week of August 29, 2016.

This week, we visit an area of western Virginia that’s been called “a gem within a gem”: Passage Creek and Fort Valley, tucked away within the Shenandoah Valley. Have a listen for about 35 seconds to sounds heard traveling along Fort Valley Road on a recent August day.

SOUNDS – ~35 sec – Cars, crickets, cicadas, birds, motorcycle, and stream flow

A large section of Virginia’s famous Shenandoah Valley is divided by Massanutten Mountain, a complex formation of ridges, pinnacles, and valleys.  Separating the Shenandoah River’s north and south forks, the Massanutten stretches from U.S. 33 near Harrisonburg about 50 miles northeastward to U.S. 55 near Front Royal.  For most of the mountain’s northern half, the Massanutten itself is split into two main ridges, separated by Passage Creek and its valley, known in the 1700s as Powell’s Fort Valley, now simply Fort Valley.

For native tribes and then for European settlers, the area offered fertile land, water, and other natural resources, within a highly defensible area. In fact, during the Revolutionary War, George Washington—who had surveyed the area in the 1740s—reportedly planned to use Fort Valley as a stronghold against the British, if that had become necessary.  In the 1800s, iron ore mining and processing were powered by Passage Creek; remnants of that activity remain at the Elizabeth Furnace Recreation Area, part of the George Washington National Forest.  During the Civil War, high points on the Massanutten above Fort Valley were used by soldiers to relay signals, and Signal Knob’s name captures that history.  Today, Fort Valley still includes farms and small communities, now adjacent to the Washington National Forest. Passage Creek no longer powers iron furnaces, but it supports a relatively high diversity of fish, amphibians, and other aquatic species; attracts anglers, paddlers, and hikers; and provides water for a Virginia state fish hatchery.

Splitting the prominences of Massanutten Mountain, Passage Creek and Fort Valley have generated and still harbor a wealth of biological, historical, and scenic gems.

We close with part of “Rescue Me, Virginia,” by the Harrisonburg, Va.-based band The Steel Wheels, in tribute to Fort Valley’s history as a potential Revolutionary War refuge for George Washington’s army, and to the attachments people develop to special Virginia places, like Passage Creek and the valley it shapes.

MUSIC - ~ 30 sec


For more Virginia water sounds, music, and information, visit us online at, or call us at (540) 231-5463. Virginia Water Radio is produced by the Virginia Water Resources Research Center, part of Virginia Tech’s College of Natural Resources and Environment.  Thanks to Stewart Scales for his banjo version of Cripple Creek to open and close the show.  In Blacksburg, I’m Alan Raflo, thanking you for listening, and wishing you health, wisdom, and good water.


All sounds were recorded by Virginia Water Radio in Fort Valley on August 22, 2016.

“Rescue Me, Virginia,” is from The Steel Wheels’ 2015 album, “Leave Some Things Behind,” used with permission.   More information about The Steel Wheels is available online at

 Passage Creek near the Front Royal Fish Hatchery Station in Warren County, Va., August 22, 2016.

Fort Valley, looking north (down the valley) at Ramsey Road in Shenandoah County, Va., August 22, 2016.
Trinity Brethren Church (completed in 1904) on Dry Run Road in Shenandoah County, Va., August 22, 2016. The building is now part of the Fort Valley Museum.


American Whitewater, “Passage Creek – Elizabeth Furnace to Waterlick (Route 55),” online at

Michael B. Duncan et al., “A Multi-taxa Biological Survey of Passage Creek, Virginia,” Northeastern Naturalist, Vol. 18, No. 3 (2011), pages 357-369.

Fort Valley Museum, online at

Buz Groshong, “Signal Knob,” June 17, 2011, online at

Jean Stephenson, “The Massanuttens,” Potomac Appalachian Trail Club Bulletin (now Potomac Appalachian), July 1934, online at

U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA)/Forest Service, George Washington and Jefferson National Forests: home page,; “Guide to Camping, Hiking and History at the Elizabeth Furnace Recreation Area,” online (as PDF) at; and “Cultural History,” online at

Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries, “State Hatcheries,” online at

Virginia Works Progress Administration (WPA) Historical Inventory Project, “Powell’s Fort Valley,” 1937, online at the Shenandoah County (Va.) GenWeb Project,


All Water Radio episodes are listed by category at the Index link above (  See particularly the “History” and the “Rivers, Streams, and Other Surface Water” categories.


This episode may help with the following Virginia’s 2010 Science Standards of Learning (SOLs):

Grades K-6 Earth Resources Theme
4.9 - Va. natural resources, including watersheds, water resources, and organisms.

Grades K-6 Living Systems Theme
6.7 - natural processes and human interactions that affect watershed systems; Va. watersheds, water bodies, and wetlands; and water monitoring.

Earth Science Course
ES.8 - influences by geologic processes and the activities of humans on freshwater resources, including identification of groundwater and major watershed systems in Virginia.

Biology Course
BIO.8 - dynamic equilibria and interactions within populations, communities, and ecosystems; including nutrient cycling, succession, effects of natural events and human activities, and analysis of the flora, fauna, and microorganisms of Virginia ecosystems.

The episode may also help with the following Virginia 2008 Social Studies SOLs:

Virginia Studies Course
VS.2 – physical geography of Virginia past and present.
VS.5 – role of Virginia in the American Revolution.

United States History to 1865 Course
USI.2 – water features important to the early history of the United States.

Civics and Economics Course
CE.9 – public policy at local, state, and national levels.

World Geography Course
WG.3 - how regional landscapes reflect the physical environment and the cultural characteristics of their inhabitants.
WG.6 - past and present trends in human migration and cultural interaction as influenced by social, economic, political, and environmental factors.

Virginia and United States History Course
VU.7 - knowledge of the Civil War and Reconstruction Era.

Government Course
GOVT.9 – public policy at local, state, and national levels.

Virginia’s SOLs are available from the Virginia Department of Education, online at