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Groundhog Mountain [MP 188.8 – 189.9]

destination-groundhog-observation-towerThis stop along the Parkway includes a picnic area with outdoor grills and walking / hiking trails nearby including the trail to Groundhog Mountain observation tower, located in a beautiful open meadow surrounded by split-rail fences. Visitors can see the hilltop tower long before they reach it. It’s an easy 100-yard stroll that leads to the log structure, one well worth the meadow path even if you don’t climb the tower. That said, from atop the observation tower visitors have a 360-degree view of the surrounding mountain.

The Groundhog (fun fact, did you know groundhogs are called ‘whistle pigs’ in western North Carolina due to the noises they make?) Mountain observation tower resembles an old tobacco barn. It was built by the Forestry Service to spot forest fires and still stands today.

destination-fence-exampleThis is also the best spot along the Parkway to view the different types of Parkway fencing: worm, snake, post and rail, pickett and buck. The location includes a way panel which discusses the various fence styles. The variety and elegance of the fences designed to keep animals inside with simple split logs is fascinating. The original Blue Ridge Parkway fences were constructed of chestnut, now nearly gone from the region due to blight. Repairs by FRIENDS and the National Park Service (NPS) are made with locust wood which is equally hard and rot-resistant.

Heading north from the Virginia-North Carolina state line, one of the first roadside attractions you’ll pass is Puckett Cabin. “Aunt” Orelena Hawks Puckett was born in 1837 and she lived here for many decades during the latter part of her life. During those years, she acted as a midwife during more than a thousand births, charging new moms between $1 and $6 for the service. She was well known throughout the mountains of Southern Virginia and continued to serve as a midwife by one account until age 94, by others until her death in 1939 at the age of 102. It has been said she never lost a child or mother through her own fault. Regardless of weather, “Aunt” Orelena went wherever and whenever called. Sometimes on horseback, often walking, the midwife brought assurance and kindness to all she visited.

destination---puckett-cabinHer career as a midwife didn’t start until she was in her 50’s, far past her own child-bearing years. Seldom does one person have two sites commemorating their life, but two remain for Orelena Puckett. The NPS maintains Puckett Cabin where Orelena lived and worked. Several miles away at the foot of Groundhog Mountain, a cemetery with 24 fieldstones marking the tragedy of her personal life. Orelena’s seventy plus years as a midwife in the rural mountains were remarkable in that between 1862 and 1881 was interspersed the tragedy of the loss of 24 of her own children. Many of her children were stillborn and none of her children survived infancy. It has been hypothesized that there was an Rh incompatibility between Orelena and her husband leading to serious medical complications for her children.

Nowadays, you can walk around the outside of the cabin (the door is locked). There’s also another small out-building nearby, which you can go inside but there isn’t much to it.

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