Big Meadows, near the center of the park, is the largest developed area of SNP and located on the Skyline Drive at Milepost 51. It contains the park's Harry F. Byrd Visitor Center, as is a lodge, camp store, and camping area. A wildlife and plant observation log is kept at the Byrd Visitor Center desk, you are encouraged to add your sightings to the list. Several of the parks popular hiking trails can be accessed from Big Meadows, including the Mill Prong Trail, which leads to Rapidan Camp, the restored presidential fishing retreat of Herbert Hoover from 1929-1933 on the Rapidan River. Big Meadows was the site of the dedication of Shenandoah National Park and Skyline Drive by President Franklin Delano Roosevelt in 1936.
The Big Meadows area has the highest concentration of rare plants in Shenandoah National Park. Big Meadows is also the most visible and studied wetland at SNP. Two Mafic Fens (types of wetlands) contain globally rare plant communities believed to be endemic to the Park and support eight state rare plant species. The Meadow also supports an abundance of mammals, birds, amphibians, reptiles, and insects, some of which are not found elsewhere in the Park. A state listed snake, a rare insect, and several salamander and bird species are among the animals that occupy the Big Meadows wetland areas.
One such high-value area, the Big Meadows Swamp (BMS, or Swamp), is a 20 acre wetland located between the Big Meadows Campground and Skyline drive. Officially termed a "fen", the Big Meadows Swamp (BMS) is a wetland fed by groundwater rich in calcium and iron. The nutrient rich waters of the BMS combine with other site characteristics such as the geology, elevation, and environmental conditions to form an environment that supports the extremely rare Northern Blue Ridge Mafic Fen plant community. This vegetation community contains the highest concentration of rare plants per unit area within the entire park, and is found nowhere else in the world besides Big Meadows. To learn more about these studies, download this 2008 SNP Resource Management PDF.
In 1962, during the Ash Wednesday Storm, Big Meadows recorded Virginia's greatest 24-hour snowfall with 33 inches and the storm snowfall was 42 inches. In 1996, during the Blizzard of 1996, Big Meadows recorded Virginia's greatest storm snowfall accumulation at 47". Archaeological work has uncovered evidence of prehistoric periods of human habitation as long ago as 2000 B.C. Big Meadows was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1985.
To Keep Big Meadows a Meadow, as part of an ongoing ecological maintenance project, portions of the Big Meadow are periodically burned in accordance with the Shenandoah National Park Big Meadows Management Plan. The purpose of the burns is to reduce the amount of woody shrubs. This will encourage sun-loving flowering plants, including many of the park’s rare species, and help to maintain the historic open vista.
The below images of a 'controlled burn' were captured by the Big Meadows webcam on March 24th of 2009. The
Big Meadows Webcam is installed at the Byrd Visitor Center, and is operated by a park partner. This particular cam setup allows you to view a time-lapse sequences of images, while this setup on the NPS site allows you to view 3 different sizes of the current image.