About St. Mary's Wilderness
The St. Mary's Wilderness is a 10,090 acre parcel of forested and mountainous land in the George Washington National Forest. Located near Vesuvious, Virginia in Augusta County, it is named after the main
stream that flows from within its boundaries. This wilderness area was created by Congress in 1984 as a result of a public interest in creating new
wilderness in the eastern United States and to protect the St. Mary's River watershed. The wilderness can be accessed at its lower boundary from
state route 608 and USFS 41. A hiking trail follows the St. Mary's River from the lower parking lot up the gorge. The wilderness may also be entered from trails off the Blue Ridge parkway and Green Pond road.
Use of the wilderness area:
The wilderness concept is partially based on an intent to provide an escape from the amenities of modern life. It is to provide an opportunity
for solitude and primitive recreation. For these reasons, human activities in the wilderness are strictly regulated. No motorized vehicles or bicycles
are allowed in the wilderness. Group size, camping, noise and other human impacts are controlled. Users should check with the forest service regarding current regulations at 540-265-5100.
Management of the wilderness:
St. Mary's and other wilderness areas are administered to maintain or achieve a naturally functioning ecosystem. Human manipulation of wilderness areas are limited to activities projecting human safety or private
property and management toward natural succession. Within the last century, the original timber stands of the St. Mary's watershed were removed for charcoal, tan bark, lumber and other uses, and were affected
by mining, road construction and the Chestnut Blight. The timber stands found here now are typical second, third or fourth growth stands and
consist mostly of deciduous trees such as maples, poplars and oaks. Recently the gyspy moth, southern pine bark beetle and other pests have
affected the timber stands. A large portion of the wilderness was mined for manganese and iron from the early 1900s to the 1950s and the
remnants of the mining operations are evident. The mine pits and building foundations are being left to be reclaimed by nature. There are more than
twelve miles of stream length within the wilderness boundary, mostly within the St. Mary's River and its main tributaries. This water supports
naturally reproducing trout populations and is the main reason this area was selected for wilderness designation. Fishing in the wilderness area
should be done to "limit your kill" rather "kill your limit". Current fishing regulations specify that no trout less than nine inches may be creeled and
that anglers must use artificial lures or flies, not bait. .