By Julie Paul
Just off the beaten trail, on the southern outskirts of Leesburg, is what may be Loudoun County’s best hidden destination—a place recently designated by Gov. Terry McAuliffe as a Virginia Treasure. This property is Banshee Reeks Nature Preserve.
At 725 acres, Banshee Reeks is the largest parcel owned by the county government. Fortunately, thanks to a conservation easement held by the Virginia Outdoors Foundation, the property is protected in perpetuity. The easement, updated in 2016, safeguards an extraordinary amount of biodiversity within the preserve’s wetlands, grasslands, meadows, shrub-lands, woodlands and riparian habitats.
The preserve contains habitats typical of the piedmont and is home to more than 200 species of birds, some 200 species of wildflowers and more than 120 species of native bees. More than 50 acres is classified by the Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation as a mountain/piedmont basic seepage swamp. It is a sensitive wetland, characterized by constant groundwater seepage, alkaline water and a specialized vegetation community.
Other major aspects that attract visitors are a 20-mile trail system, four ponds (including one for recreational fishing) and 2.5 miles of Goose Creek frontage (a Virginia Scenic River). There are historic features, such as an 1830s bank barn and log cabin, spring house with stone levee and a 1900s house site. The southwest end of the preserve is marked with pillow-basalt volcanic rock outcrops—part of what is known today as the Catoctin formation—dating back 600 million years. One of these formations can be seen from the Carter-Luck trail.
Banshee Reeks, you ask? What’s with the curious name? The story begins with the landowner in the early 1800s, a man of Scottish/Irish descent named Jordan B. Luck. In the Gaelic language, the term banshee refers to a female spirit, and reeks invoke vapor or mist, e.g., fog. One evening, after conducting business in downtown Leesburg, Luck stopped by a local saloon on his way home. Upon arriving at his farm late at night, with the fog rolling through Goose Creek, the nighttime animals making their presence known, and being in the state of mind he was, Luck claimed to have heard a banshee in the reeks. Through the years, the phrase stuck and the property became known as Banshee Reeks.
The next century saw the property change hands seven times and become a 695-acre hay farm put into a protective open-space easement in 1984. It was sold to Loudoun County in 1991, in part to serve as a buffer for the county landfill just north of the preserve. In 1999, the Board of Supervisors officially designated the property a nature preserve. With the addition of an adjacent 30-acre tract, total acreage grew to 725.
Banshee Reeks serves as the site for the preeminent chapter of the Virginia Master Naturalist program. This corps of volunteers provides education, outreach and service benefitting natural resources and areas within communities. The VMN course is taught each year, with classes held September through April. Banshee Reeks also hosts a chapter headquarters of the Archeological Society of Virginia, an organization promoting the study of the archaeologic and anthropologic aspects of the prehistoric and historic periods in Virginia. ASV educates and encourages proper conservation and exploration of archeological sites and on-site materials. This group periodically hosts public digs to help educate the community about the past in Loudoun County and Banshee Reeks.
The Friends of Banshee Reeks nonprofit organization plays an important role advocating and promoting volunteer opportunities and educational programs about the natural environment. Its volunteer groups include community members, Master Naturalists, Friends members and Smithsonian Conservation Biological Institute interns. Its volunteers have been an important force supporting the mission of the preserve. The third Saturday of each month is Volunteer Day, overseen by the staff members on site. In May 2017, Banshee Reeks will celebrate its 200th consecutive volunteer month.
The preserve has one visitor entrance at 21085 The Woods Road in Leesburg. It is open to the public every Saturday and Sunday (8 a.m. to 4 p.m., excluding holidays). The Visitor Center is open each Volunteer Day. Saturday, June 24th, Banshee Reeks will play host to an outdoor festival celebrating National Pollinator Week. Other programs include ecology day camps for adults and resource management workshops for landowners. There are scheduled bird walks the second Saturday of every month at 8 a.m.—participants should meet in the parking lot.
Come out and join us! Spend the day hiking, fishing, learning and volunteering if you like, but mainly just enjoying Banshee Reeks. Please remember to stay on the trails and help preserve this treasure right in your own backyard.
Julie Paul is the Naturalist at Banshee Reeks Nature Preserve. For more information about the nature preserve and programs, Friends of Banshee Reeks, Virginia Master Naturalist program or Virginia Archeological Society, contact email@example.com or go to bansheereeksnp.org, vmnbansheereeks.org and archeologyva.org, respectively. In Our Backyard is compiled by the Loudoun County Preservation and Conservation Coalition. To learn more about the organization or to participate in the Rural Roads Initiative, go to loudouncoalition.org.