Pen Park Interpretive Trail
Charlottesville Va Parks and Grounds
The Pen Park physical fitness and nature trails start between Shelters 1 and 2 -- see map.

As you walk down the Pen Park Physical Fitness Trail, we invite you to enjoy some of the sights and sounds of nature.  The Interpretive Trail descriptions of wildflowers, shrubs and trees follow the Physical Fitness Trail Station signs.  From Station 1 to Station 20 is about 1/2 mile.

Some of the animals who live here year round are rabbits, ground hogs, foxes, deer, field mice, snakes and other small animals.  Some of the birds you might see are cardinals, catbirds, doves, goldfinches and many more.

While walking or exercising on this beautiful trail remember we are sharing it with the homes of many plants, animals and birds.  How this land is used determines the development of wildlife here.  Before this area was a park it was open land used for cattle grazing and growing farm crops.  Now that the land is not being farmed it is reverting back to a natural forest condition.  It will go through many stages and is now in the early stage of succession.  As the large woody plants develop, the grasses and many wildflowers will disappear.  Cedar, Southern Pine, and hardwood species will develop into a mixed forest.  As the years go by, if not disturbed by man, it will become a hardwood forest.  These changes will change the wildlife that will live here.

Brochure Box: a large Autumn Olive (Elaeagnus umbellata) shrub is growing to the right of the box.  This shrub is a favorite of birds when the fruit ripens.

Railing: To the left of the trail in the summer you will see cultivated Day Lilies (Hemerocallis fulva) and wild Asters (Aster).  At the end of the railing on the left is a clump of Ailanthus (Ailanthus altisima) trees.  This tree is called the Tree of Heaven and flowers in June and July.

Stations 1 to 5
In season you will find wild flowers along the trail.  Chicory (Cichorium intybus) and Queen Anne's Lace (Daucus carota) are abundant.  The roots of the blue Chicory flower can be ground as a coffee substitute.  Queen Anne's Lace is known as wild carrot from which our cultivated carrot was developed.

Other wild flowers that grow along the trail are Sorrel, Heal All, Night Shade, Bindweed, Jewelweed, Thistle, Milkweed, Asters and other wildflowers.  These flowers draw birds to this area.

Between Station 2 and 3 on your right is a Wild Pear (Pyrus sp).  It has oval shaped leaves, small round fruit and small thorns.  There are several wild pears along the trail.

Stations 6 to 11
Approaching Station 6 to the right of the bridge are two multiple trunk Black Cherry (Prunus serotina) trees.  Birds enjoy the small black cherries.  The cherry wood is valued for furniture making, and the bitter bark yields a cough syrup.

Across from Station 8 to the left of the bridge is a Black Cherry with wild Grape Vines (Vitis sp).  Grape vines can be found throughout the area and may live well over a century, climbing high in treetops by means of tendrils.

Red Mulberry (Morus rubra) trees are abundant along the trail.  Small saplings can be seen especially between Stations 8 through 12 and a larger Mulberry to the right of Station 11.  The leaves on these trees are oval, mitten shaped, and/or lobed and coarsely toothed.

The two trees across from Station 9 are Wild Pear.  Also look for the very small Sassafras (Sassafras varifolium) in front of the Pear trees.  The Sassafras tree, like the Red Mulberry, can have oval, 3 lobed or mitten shaped leaves all on the same tree.  The root makes a spicy tea, the fragrant wood is used in boat building and sassafras oil in medicine.

Observe the Poison Ivy vine (Rhus radicans) in the Red Cedar on the left of Station 10.  Poison Ivy leaves, vines and roots are toxic to humans.  Poison Ivy has 3 leaflets and is often confused with Virginia Creeper (Lonicera periclymenum) which has 5 leaflets and is non-toxic to humans.

Stations 12 to 15
Across from Station 13 look closely for a Spicebush (Lindera benzoin) surrounded by poison ivy.  The Spicebush leaves are oval and aromatic when crushed, blooms early and is a welcome sign of spring.

A little further on your right is a small grove of Persimmon (Diospyros virginiana) trees.  They may be hard to spot because they are covered by vines.  The bark of these trees is dark and deeply furrowed.  The persimmon fruit is soft and edible after the first frost.  Across from these trees on your left is a grove of Sycamore (Platanus occidentalis) trees.  These trees with their distinctive leaves, buttonball fruit and mottled white/green/gray bark draw attention wherever they grow.  Nearby is a Black Willow (Salix nigra).  Willow trees prefer moist ground and their fibrous, matted roots help reduce erosion.

Notice the water erosion problem at the entrance to the nature trail on your left.  This is a man-made problem caused by the service road for the nature trail area.  Water has a soothing sound when running but can do considerable damage when running out of control.  In the spring or during wet periods water sounds from the small stream can be heard if you listen carefully.

At the junction of the Fitness trail and Nature trail, observe the large Red Cedar (Junuperus virginiana) to your left.  Poison Ivy is using this tree as a climbing support.  Also, notice on the left of the footbridge Greenbriar (Smilax sp.) and a large Multiflora Rose (Rosa multiflora).  On the right of the footbridge you can see Wild Privet (Ligustam vulgare).

After crossing the footbridge, enjoy the coolness of the shade from the tree canopy between Stations 14 and 15.  The Virginia state flower, flowering Dogwood (Cornus florida) is present here.

Stations 16 to 20
Grape Vine (Vitis sp.) and Japanese Honeysuckle (Lonicera Japonica) are smothering out the Red Cedar at Station 16 by completely growing over the trees.

Observe the small Yellow Poplar (Liriodendron tulipfera) on the left of Station post 17.  This tree, when mature, reaches close to 150 feet in height and over 30 inches in stump diameter.

Between stations 17 and 18 on the left of the trail are two native Southern Pine trees.  The first one is a Shortleaf Pine (Pinus echinata).  The Shortleaf Pine has 2 or 3 needles in a cluster and straight needles.  This tree is commonly called Forest Pine and is used for "heart pine flooring".  The second pine is a Virginia Pine (Pinus virginia) which commonly reseeds in abandoned fields.  Virginia Pine has 2 needles in a cluster and the needles are usually shorter and twisted.

A Box Elder (Acer negundo) can be seen on the right of Station 18.  This tree is a member of the maple family.  To the right of the box elder is a Red Maple (Acer rubrum).

Winged Sumac (Rhus copallina) forms the background for Station 19.  This shrub has large orange red flower clusters, noticeable in late summer and fall.  It is not one of the poisonous sumacs.  Staghorn sumac, which is not poisonous, can also be found along the trail.

As you pause at this last Station 20, see how many of the plants you can now identify.  You can readily see Black Cherry, Red Mulberry, Sumac, Japanese Honeysuckle, Red Cedar, Ailanthus and in the summertime, wildflowers such as Chicory, Milkweed, Pokeberry and Day Lilies.  As you walk quietly on the trail you may hear crickets chirping, the soothing song of a songbird or the scurrying of a rabbit running for cover.

We hope you have enjoyed this Interpretive Trail and we encourage you to visit the Greenbelt Interpretive Trail at Riverview Park, the Greenleaf Interpretive Trail at Greenleaf Park, and to make use of the many brochures available for the Ivy Creek Natural Area.


Charlottesville Parks and Grounds would like to thank Charles Witter, a retired forester, and Paul Spicer, community volunteer, for designing this brochure.

Pen Park Home | Map and directions | Photos | Parks and Grounds Home

Revised 7/4/01 by Stowe Keller.
Original printed brochure is available in the brochure box at the start of the trail.


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