Hiking Chilton Woods State Forest

by Kevin Howe

A little brown bat takes a siesta while hanging upside down.

Chilton Woods State Forest is one of many natural treasures in the Northern Neck. Located off Mary Ball Road on Field Trial Road, it is about five miles north of Lively in Lancaster County.

One of 25 Virginia State Forests, the Northern Neck is lucky and proud to have one of these multi-use public forests. These 397 acres were deeded to the state by Katherine Chilton in 2000 following the wishes of her late husband, William, a business owner and former president of the Bank of Lancaster. Having owned it for 46 years, they wanted the land and wildlife they so dearly loved to be enjoyed by all.

Chilton Woods is mostly a managed loblolly pine forest with areas of mixed hardwoods including oaks, tulip poplars, sweetgum and maples. Its rolling terrain with small streams and ravines is perfect for a leisurely nature hike through a forest. The quiet beauty of the small and large trees along with the flora and fauna is a real attraction. Bird watching is spectacular as is the beauty of the wildflowers.

Pink lady’s slipper orchids and showy orchids are abundant spectacular bloomers in April and May and some should still be in bloom. No less than 12 different native orchids have been recorded at Chilton Woods.

Wildlife is abundant and I have seen the uncommon ovenbird, nesting turkey with 14 eggs, a little brown bat and numerous butterflies. On the west side of the forest, off the Henry Bayshore Trail, is a small stream which drains into the Corrotoman River. Along this stream trail visitors can see the engineering work of a family of beavers and maybe even see a beaver, especially around dusk or dawn.

Members of the local chapters of the Virginia Native Plant Society and the Virginia Master Naturalists work year-round to keep the trails clear, conduct surveys of plants and animals and just get out in nature.

The forest is open to the public with three cleared trails, Henry Bashore Trail, Central Trail and the Doghouse Trail. The late Henry Bashore was a friend of the Chilton family and the longtime Northern Neck state forester (and conservationist) whose love and dedication to protecting the natural resources of the Northern Neck lead to him being awarded the Jackson M. Abbott Conservation Award by the Virginia Society of Ornithology in 1987.

A trail map can be found at http://www.dof.virginia.gov/stateforest/maps/Chilton-Woods-Map_Trail.jpg. If only able to walk one trail, go to the Dog House trail, it’s the best.

There are two parking areas along Field Trial Road, one under power line right-of-way that crosses the road and another on the south side of the road by the Dog House Trail.

Take a camera and visit Chilton Woods State Forest—you will not be disappointed.

Kevin Howe of Kilmarnock is a member of the Northern Neck Land Conservancy, the Northern Neck Chapter of the Virginia Master Naturalists, the Northern Neck Chapter of the Virginia Native Plant Society and the Northern Neck of Virginia Audubon Society.