Between the James River to the southeast and the Blue Ridge Mountains to the north and west lies beautiful Nelson County. Do you love the great outdoors? Nelson’s Wintergreen Resort is a year-round sportsman’s paradise, with ski trails and snowboard parks, mountain bike and horseback trails, golf links and tennis courts. Nelson’s scenic length of the Appalachian Trail includes Crabtree Falls, the highest waterfall on the East Coast, while Skyline Drive and the Blue Ridge Parkway provide stunning views as they traverse gorgeous mountain passes.
Are you a wine and beer loving foodie? Drive along Nelson’s Route 151 and you’ll find five wineries, three breweries, and a cidery, plus fruit orchards, farm stands and bed & breakfasts. Are you a fan of the heartwarming family drama, The Waltons, a hit TV show still beloved in reruns? Its Walton’s Mountain setting is based on the Nelson town of Schuyler, home to the show’s creator, the late Earl Hammer, Jr., and proud site of the Walton Museum (open March through November).
Do you enjoy tastes and treks, views and brews? As creative hipster enterprises and agri-businesses have joined golf courses and ski slopes in the gorgeous Central Virginia countryside, Nelson has become downright fashionable for young and old alike, drawing the sportsmen and the culinarily-inclined, the farm-to-table crowd and the second home gang. Some are tourists, others homebuyers, and, still others, tourists who become homebuyers enchanted with Nelson’s rural character and lively lifestyles, all in close proximity to major metropolitan centers.
Home to only 15,000 people in the 2010 census, Nelson was originally inhabited by the Siouan-speaking Nahyssan tribe. Englishmen began settling there in the 1600s. Created in 1808, it was named for Thomas Nelson, Jr., a planter and soldier who represented Virginia in the Continental Congress, signed the Declaration of Independence, and served as Governor of Virginia for five months in 1781.
Perhaps the best way to see Nelson for the first time is to drive or bike the 50-mile scenic loop comprising Route 151, Route 664, the Blue Ridge Parkway, and Route 56. You’ll pass through Piedmont foothills, cross the Rockfish and Tye rivers, and wander through the Blue Ridge Mountains. You’ll see Crabtree Falls, at 1,214 feet, the highest waterfall east of the Mississippi River. In the spring you’ll admire azaleas, rhododendrons, and mountain laurel, and in the fall, glorious foliage.
Forty-five miles of the Appalachian Trail wind through Nelson County. Some of those miles make for easy hiking, while others are rugged and challenging. One popular hike is along Humpback Rocks Trail, which affords spectacular views of the Rockfish and Shenandoah Valleys. Humpback Mountain was a landmark for wagon trains passing along over the Howardsville Turnpike in the 1840s, and parts of the trail still exist today. The Visitor Center and mountain farm exhibit include a single-room log cabin and a series of outbuildings representative of area architecture in the late 19th century. Costumed guides demonstrate weaving, basket making and gardening.
Helping to conserve and deepen appreciation for all this natural beauty is The Nature Foundation at Wintergreen, a non-profit which “encourages understanding, appreciation, and conservation of the natural and cultural resources of the Blue Ridge Mountains.” The Foundation’s Plant Propagation Program studies and promotes plant species native to the area
and propagates plants from seeds, plant division, and cuttings. Propagated plants are sold by Foundation volunteers in the spring, summer and fall.
“Alcohol alley” is the irreverent term some locals have adopted for Nelson 151, the scenic byway east of the Blue Ridge in the Rockfish Valley that makes a lovely day trip and shopping excursion. Oenophiles can sip and sample at Afton Mountain Vineyards, Cardinal Point Vineyard and Winery, Flying Fox Vineyard and Winery, Hill Top Berry Farm & Winery and Veritas Vineyard. Beer lovers can try the brews at Blue Mountain Brewery, Devils Backbone Brewing Company and Wild Wolf Brewery; and hard cider connoisseurs can enjoy a glass of cider and the “apple-tisers” (cheese board, soft pretzel, ham sliders) on decks and terraces overlooking the Rockfish River at Bold Rock Hard Cider. Many 151 establishments host lively social scenes on the weekends, with good food and live music.
Nelson’s eleven apple orchards are popular fall destinations, especially on festival days. Drumheller’s Orchard dates back to 1937, when Everette and Eva Drumheller planted peach and apple trees on an unattended Lovingston farm. Seamans’ Orchard in Tyro grew out of a family agricultural business begun by the Lea brothers in 1933. Alton R. and Joyce Lea Seaman took over the farm in 1945, and third and fourth generation Seamans operate the orchard and live on the land today.
The four-day musical celebration at Oak Ridge Farm in Arrington called LOCKN’ Festival will celebrate its fifth year from August 24-27, and has already announced a raft of big name acts including Phil Lesh, Keller Williams, The Avett Brothers and Widespread Panic. Devoted to “world-class music, local vendors, and community engagement,” LOCKN’ offers local and regional cuisine, craft beers and wines, and opportunities to explore its picturesque setting.
Also in rural Nelson, The Infamous Stringdusters will headline the fifth annual version of The Festy on Columbus Day weekend, October 6-8. Heavy on the bluegrass, but featuring a wide variety of roots and Americana-loving acts, The Festy is a proudly family-oriented event.
Homebuyers attracted to all this natural beauty and easy livin’ often look first at the housing options on Wintergreen Mountain, or into the valley below, where the homes in Stoney Point have impressive mountain views.
Maureen Kelly, of Nelson County’s Economic Development and Tourism office, has been a Nelson resident for over 30 years, and she’s not going anywhere. “I love living here because of the people,” Kelly says, “as well as their attitude about stewardship of the environment. I love the actual setting, I love the fact that Wintergreen is on the mountain and yet we have the beautiful Rockfish Valley and the Shenandoah Valley on the other side. I love the roads; I love the opportunities for outdoor recreation; I adore all the wonderful culinary businesses as well as the attractions. I don’t think I’d want to live anywhere else.”