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Press Release:


Lexington, May 3, 2022: A 1,620-acre section of the James River Wilderness Area in the Jefferson National Forest, known as the Belfast Trail, was inducted into the Old-Growth Forest Network (OGFN) on Tuesday, May 3rd.  During the dedication ceremony at the trailhead in Natural Bridge, Sarah Adloo, co-executive director of OGFN, presented a OGFN plaque to Lauren Stull, District Ranger of the U.S Forest Service, Glenwood and Pedlar District.  The plaque, along with other information about old-growth forests, will be displayed in the Belfast trail kiosk.

Founded in 2012 by Joan Maloof, OGFN works to preserve and highlight old-growth forests in as many counties in the U.S. as possible. Network forests are both protected from future logging and made available for education and recreation.  The Network currently lists almost 160 forests in 28 states.  The Belfast Trail site is the 11th Virginia forest registered with OGFN.  It is the first Network forest in Virginia located within a national forest and the first Network forest in Rockbridge county.  

The Belfast section of forest, last logged in 1885, is a cove forest, a type unique to the Appalachian Mountains, with some of the greatest plant and tree diversity of forests in the United States.  The forest was once occupied by the Monacan Indian Nation, and a land acknowledgement statement written by a member of the Nation was read at the event.  

Partnering with the USFS, the Rockbridge Area Conservation Council (RACC) contacted the OGFN to nominate the Belfast Trail area for the Network and facilitated the process of joining the Network.  In addition, RACC members organized the dedication ceremony.  Mark Miller, a RACC member and the executive director of the Virginia Wilderness Committee, spoke to the group about the special characteristics of the Belfast site and the benefits of establishing wilderness areas. Lauren Stull also spoke, stressing the multipurpose goals of the USFS and the value of partnerships with community organizations.

In addition to the OGFN , RACC and USFS representatives, the event was attended by representatives from local government, and conservation and outdoor recreation organizations, including the Blue Ridge Garden Club,  Boxerwood Education Association, the Friends of Brushy Hills,  the Amherst County Friends of Pedlar Forest, Lexington City Council, Natural Bridge State Park, the Natural Bridge Soil and Water Conservation District, Rockbridge Area Conservation Council, Rockbridge Bird Club, Rockbridge Area Master Gardeners, Rockbridge Master Naturalists, Rockbridge Outdoor Recreation Partnership, and the Virginia Wilderness Committee.

OGFN’s Adloo noted, “This dedication was a wonderful testament to all the groups who are working in Rockbridge County to support conservation.  It’s great to see so many groups collaborating.”

The one-mile trail to the Network forest’s edge is accessible for almost all levels of hikers. Of note: its location in a wilderness area limits groups to 10 hikers.  There is currently limited parking at the site.  The trail head is off Petites Gap Road, near Arnolds Valley. 

For more information about OGFN see their website:

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