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October 15, 2009 12:36 am


Much of the forest at Montpelier remains as it was when James Madison strolled the grounds.


Beyond the back lawn of Montpelier, trees stand much the same as they did when James Madison himself walked through the Landmark Forest.

Deer, bear and raccoons live under tulip trees, oaks and hickories. And when the leaves start to fall, the bare branches stand in contrast to the kaleidoscope of colors underfoot.

Visitors to Montpelier's Fall Big Woods Walk on Sunday will get a guided tour of the 200-acre forest.

"This area of the property has received almost no disturbance and was virtually left alone during the 1900s," Sandy Mudrinich, horticulturist at Montpelier, said. "That has allowed the trees to grow extra big."

The trees have stood since before Madison's time, and some of them are over 300 years old, Mudrinich notes.

"When people go walking through the woods, with just a little imagination, they can see what it would have been like in Madison's time," she said.

Much of the forest would have looked the same to Madison as it will to visitors on the tour.

"We're finding out now: In Madison's time, he absolutely used the forest," Mudrinich said.

Madison cleared parts of the forest for farming and grazing while leaving other parts untouched.

In the two-hour tour, visitors can see both of the sections of the forest that had been cleared, as well as the areas that have always been undisturbed, known as "old growth forest."

The tour will also give visitors a chance to walk among a large variety of plant and animal life.

"If you can think of it, we probably have it," she said.

Montpelier offers guided tours of the Landmark Forest four times a year, once in every season. During the fall tour, the leaves have started to change colors and the canopy is less dense, allowing visitors to get a better feel for the size of the trees.

In 1987, the U.S. Department of the Interior named the Landmark Forest a National Natural Landmark. In 2000, the Nature Conservancy put an easement on the woods, meaning the property is protected and will not be changed from its current state.

The guided tours have been a regular Montpelier event for about 12 years, Beth Morrill, media manager says. The size of the tours varies depending on the season, with any number of people stepping back in time--if only for two hours.

After the tour of the woods, visitors can tour the Montpelier estate and grounds to complement their newfound nature knowledge with history knowledge.

"We're allowing visitors to have more than a one-dimensional visit," Mudrinich said.

Brynn Boyer: 540/374-5000, ext. 5779

What: Fall Big Woods Walk Tour When: Sunday, Oct. 18; 2-4 p.m. Where: James Madison's Montpelier Cost: Regular admission to the estate applies. Info: 540/672-2728

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