For those implementing home education with their children and looking for fun, educational outings that will engage the kiddos and leave them wanting to learn more, Patrick County is your homeschooling destination! What follows is a list of all the many educational attractions in Patrick County, updated to reflect changes due to Covid. Take a day trip and try a few, or stay the night and try them all! The possibilities are as endless as the views from our many mountain overlooks.
Step back into the Victorian era at the historic Reynolds Homestead, built in 1814. This tobacco plantation, named the Rock Springs Plantation, was home to R. J. Reynolds, founder of the R. J. Reynolds Tobacco Company.
Take a tour of the main house and other buildings around the homestead, learn the history of the Reynolds Tobacco Company, and of the enslaved men & women that lived and worked on the plantation. Take a self-guided tour around the property or sign-up in advance for a guided tour by one of the Homestead’s knowledgeable guides.
Don’t miss the one-mile loop walk on the self-guided Link to Education About Forests (or “L.E.A.F.”) trail. Walk this easy trail to learn about the flora & fauna native to the area, forests, native grasses, natural succession, and pass by otherwise-hidden historic sites like the plantation’s cemetery of enslaved people and the rock spring.
Other Historical Sites
Laurel Hill: Birthplace of J.E.B. Stuart
Laurel Hill is the birthplace and childhood home of Civil War General J.E.B. Stuart. Upon arrival, visitors can pick up a self-guided tour brochure at the entrance and proceed onto the grounds. There is a great walking trail throughout the property that leads you to a beautiful overlook of the neighboring mountains and valley.
Patrick County is home to two historic grist mills. The oldest is Cockram Mill. Built in 1885, this grist mill sits on the banks of the Dan River headwaters. The second mill is the famous Mabry Mill, located North on the Blue Ridge Parkway. This grist mill, built in 1908, is the most photographed spot on the Parkway. In the warm months, the property offers a restaurant and gift shop and have music and artisan demonstrations spread out on the lawn. Pre-Covid, they also offered inside tours of the mill.
Hollow History Center
Make an appointment at the Hollow History Center and be treated to a walk through the history of the Patrick County “Hollow” in Ararat at no charge. On-site you will find exhibits such as the Riley Puckett Cabin, the Library Cabin, a Log Tobacco Barn with farm equipment, and a section of the Mount Airy and Eastern, or “Dinky,” Railroad. You will also find a collection of local history, photos and genealogy. Bring your lunch to enjoy the picnic shelter on site.
Jacks Creek Covered Bridge
Walk through the historic Jack’s Creek Covered Bridge, located in Woolwine. It was built in 1914 to gain access across the Smith River to the neighboring Jacks Creek Primitive Baptist Church, where the bridge derives its name. Now substituted by an adjacent modern-day steel beam bridge, Jacks’s Creek Covered Bridge is still open to visitors to walk through and sign the guest book. The site of the bridge is a wonderful spot for a blanket picnic or getting your feet wet in the river on a hot Summer’s day.
New Deal WPA Post Office Mural
The Stuart Post Office houses one of the two surviving post office murals painted by John E. Costigan during the Great Depression. “Receiving the Mail on the Farm” was installed in 1942 and commissioned as part of Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal project. You can read about this mural on the Appalachian Mural Trail.
At milepost 190 on the Blue Ridge Parkway is Puckett Cabin. This Parkway exhibit is the home of celebrated mountain midwife Orlean Hawks Puckett. She is known for delivering over 1,000 babies in the surrounding mountain area and never once lost a mother or child. Puckett started her midwife career at the age of 52 after losing 24 of her own infants. She lived to the age of 102. Visitors can pull just off the Parkway to view her cabin home and read about her remarkable life. Want to know more? Read Orlean Puckett: The Life of a Mountain Midwife, 1844-1939 by Karen Cecil Smith.
Nature Freaks specializes in all aspects of environmental education and is committed to the growth and development of all people through quality programming structured around nature. They use hands-on, outdoor education activities to create in-depth learning experiences that foster responsible stewardship of your surroundings.
Instructor Chad Lange has a dual degree in Natural Resources Management and Fish & Wildlife Management and worked as a Naturalist and Forrester for several years in Ohio before moving to Patrick County in 2010 and starting Nature Freaks environmental/outdoor education. During his 10 years teaching environmental education, Chad has taught people age 4 through age 60. No one is too young or too old to learn and experience the natural world around them.
The Nature Freak can organize educational hikes and classes for your choosing. Hikes can run from 1-3 hours. Classes may run from 1-4 hours. All of the classes are hands-on learning and will be conducted in the outdoor classroom at Nature Freaks Acres (or at any public or private location upon request). Individual families as well as groups may reserve classes. Classes or hikes may include topics such as:
“Tree”mendous Trees: This class starts by exploring the basic anatomy of local trees. You will become aware of the value and life of trees and their importance on Earth. What makes a tree a tree? What makes trees different from one another? How do trees help us and animals? The class will discuss how to identify trees with the use of a key in a field guide using leaves, bark, and branching patterns. A hike through the woods and some tree-hugging to do some hands-on identifying skills will finish up the class. This class can be held on our property, your land, or state park trails. Grades 4+ Duration: 2+ hours
Marvelous Mammals: Get hands-on to experience the wild animals that could be in your own back yard. This class offers opportunities to touch pelts, bones, antlers, etc. and ends with a hike to look for these creatures! K – 4 grades recommended.
Magnificent Macros: This FUN, WET, DIRTY class starts with insect anatomy and classification. It is followed with dirty fingernails caused by searching through scoops of detritus and mud/muck looking for aquatic macro-invertebrates, (small, juvenile water insects). The class uses their scientific findings to determine the Biotic Index of the waterway from where you collected the samples. The class will also discuss ecology, habitat, biomes, metamorphosis, etc. This exciting program can be done at a pond or stream site at Nature Freaks Acres or your own property! It can be instructed to fit appropriate ages. Dress/ Shoes appropriate. Grades K+ Duration: 1.5 – 2 hrs.
Basic Wilderness Survival 101: Join the Nature Freak in the “wild” to “get lost.” This is a great hands-on class. You will explore many aspects of basic survival skills you can use, whether you’re lost or just out camping. The skills you will learn can determine life or death in some situations. The class will discuss and demonstrate: Shelter, Fire, Water, trapping and foraging for food. Grade 4 – Adult. Duration: 2-4+ hours.
“Sense”sational Discoveries: Man is a sight-oriented organism. This sense is so highly developed, and modern man is so far removed from nature, he tends to use this sense to the exclusion of all others. Nature Freaks gives students an opportunity to discover, experience and observe their natural surroundings through all five senses. A side objective is to show how one sense can be sharpened by the loss of another. Our “Makes Sense” box is filled with all sorts of hands-on materials found in nature to test our senses. Following this is a hike to use our senses to determine different items, smells, and tastes found in nature. This class is great to combine with other classes to start or end your day. Grades K+ Duration: 1 – 1.5 hrs.
Some classes are seasonal. Upcoming classes can be found on the Nature Freaks Facebook page.
Overnights at Nature Freaks Acres
Nature Freaks Acres is your natural getaway in Patrick County! Enjoy a walk through the many trails we have here. A decent fishing pond is right through the woods within easy walking distance.
Pitch your tent, hang your hammock, or comfortably sleep in the cabin under the bright stars. But, before you say goodnight, enjoy your dinner and smores over the small campground firepit, (free wood), or gas grill, (propane provided). Ask him about his guided tubing/kayaking trips down the near-by Dan River!
On 12,000 acres of the beautiful Appalachian forest sits Primland Resort, your playground in the Blue Ridge Mountains. This 5-star luxury resort offers three restaurants, an indoor pool & spa, an award-winning mountain golf course, an observatory, and countless outdoor activities guided or unguided. Guests can stay the night in the main lodge, or rent a secluded cabin or treehouse on the property. You don’t have to be an overnight guest to enjoy the many activities that Primland has to offer! Just call ahead and make reservations for whichever activities you’d like to do!
Primland Resort houses the largest observatory on the east coast. They offer nightly star gazing shows and special events depending on the celestial activity happening at the time. These are available all year long and will provide you with blankets on cold nights. Overnight guests only.
Primland offers many different kinds of outdoor adventures to try your hand at! Here is a list of their current offerings to day guests: Fly Fishing/ Pond Fishing, Horseback Riding, Kayaking & Stand Up Paddle Boarding, Sporting Clays, Bow & Air Rifle Range, Golfing, and RTV Trail Ride.
Windy Hill Orchard
Windy Hill Orchard in Ararat has been in the Noonkester family for over 100 years. They offer pick-your-own blueberries, peaches, blackberries, grapes, and (mostly) apples. All their fruit is non-GMO and are grown and pruned so that even the tiniest of farmers can reach them without a ladder. They use a low-spray, integrated pest management system that allows you to eat the fruit right off of the tree, as nature intended. The Noonkesters are happy to tell you all about their fruits and what processes are used to grow them. For apple picking, grab a bushel basket and head to the many different varieties of apple trees, marked in rows. Bring a picnic lunch to the orchard and enjoy the beautiful surroundings. Every Thursday, September – November, you are invited to watch as the apples are cleaned and pressed into cider. Don’t forget to leave with a jug of fresh apple cider! They also sell apple cider vinegar, apple sauce, apple butter, jams, and dried apples. The orchard is open Thursday (10 am-5 pm), Friday (1 pm-5 pm), and Saturday (10 am-5 pm).
Levering Orchard in Ararat, VA is a 3rd-generation, family-owned orchard celebrating its 112th year in 2020! Visitors to Levering Orchard are treated to pick-your-own cherries, peaches, pears, and apples in a gorgeous mountain setting. Fall apple season at Levering lasts from September through mid-November. They provide you with buckets and ladders and send you into their expansive orchard to experience picking the fruit right off of the tree yourself. You can call 276-755-3593 for up-to-date information on available apple varieties. For next summer, you can also visit the Cherry Orchard Theatre on the property that hosts outdoor plays and music with a Blue Ridge Mountain backdrop. Most of the plays performed were written in conjunction with orchard owner Frank Levering and feature stories that are local to the area. Although their theater season has ended for 2020, you can check their website for an updated schedule for next summer. Cash or check only.
Batts Blooming Blessings Farm
Batts Blooming Blessings Farm in Critz, VA is a haven from the hustle and bustle of everyday life. Make friends with free-roaming goats, chickens, and pigs. View honeybee hives. Bring a picnic lunch and relax on the lawn. See their barn quilts also on the Patrick County Barn Quilt Trail. Log on to the farm’s Facebook page to contact the farmers and make your reservations to visit. There are no admission costs, but donations are always welcome. Normally they have sunflowers for picking $1 per stem, but they’ve had a bad deer season this Fall. We’re looking forward to summer flowers in 2021!
Nancy’s Candy Co.
Nancy’s Candy Co. is a large candy factory that produces fudge, truffles, and other candies for wholesale. If you go into their adorable retail storefront you will have the opportunity to sample and purchase all the different kinds of candy they make. While inside on a weekday, you can look through the large windows into the factory to watch the candy being made! Watch the accompanying video screen that explains the process and ask the attendants behind the counter any questions you have.
Fairy Stone State Park
Fairy Stone State Park is the 2nd largest state park in Virginia. Here you can hike, mountain bike, paddle, boat, fish, swim, camp under the bright stars or stay the night in a cabin or yurt!
At the visitors center, you can learn all about the wild animals, plants, geology, and history of the land and park! See a historic moonshine still and learn about the history of bootlegging in the area. View and touch several natural artifacts such as bones, furs, stones, and much more. The rangers are happy to answer any of your questions!
Fairy Stone Hunt Site
Go to the Fairy Stone Hunt Site to find cross-shaped staurolite crystals (locally called “fairy stones”) that can only be found in a few places around the world! Ask the ranges at the visitors center about how they are formed and the best ways to search for the stones.
Philpott Dam & Lake
Neighboring Fairy Stone State Park is Philpott Lake & it’s hydroelectric Dam. Built in 1942, Philpott Dam was constructed to relieve constant flooding by the Smith River into nearby towns and residential areas and to also generate hydroelectric power. Divers under the water will find the lost town of Fayerdale which was flooded to complete the project. Visitors can view the dam and lake from the Philpott Overlook. The Visitors Center houses a small museum where guests can learn about the history of the dam, how it works, and the local flora and fauna. Philpott Lake also offers an array of outdoor recreation opportunities to enjoy while you are there such as camping, hiking, paddling, boating, fishing and swimming.