Editor's note: As our lodging experts, David and Kay Scott, continue on their 2010 odyssey across the National Park System, they get to sample some of the best lodging, food, and camping there is to be had. This dispatch came from the Skyland Resort in Shenandoah National Park.
Unlike the Blue Ridge Parkway with three concessionaires operating four lodging facilities, Shenandoah National Park has a single concessionaire, Aramark Parks and Destinations, that operates all three of the park’s lodges. And while the four lodges on the Blue Ridge are spaced fairly evenly along the parkway, the three lodges in Shenandoah are clustered within 16 miles of one another.
On Monday we described Lewis Mountain Cabins, the smallest of Shenandoah’s three facilities. Sunday night we stayed at the Skyland Resort, which, with 178 rooms, is the largest of the park lodges. Rather than a major building with many rooms, Skyland has many buildings, most with a limited number of rooms. Some of the buildings are on a bluff, while others are along a wooded hillside. Still others are on a plateau overlooking the Shenandoah Valley. Many of the rooms have balconies or patios that offer scenic views of the beautiful Shenandoah Valley. Skyland may well be the most diverse lodging facility in America’s national parks.
This area was initially developed in the mid-1800s to mine copper, but it wasn’t until years later that the mine owners considered developing Skyland as a resort. By the early 1900s, Skyland had bungalows, a dining hall, a recreation hall, and bathhouses.
Skyland’s registration building has a small lobby with a wall of windows offering excellent valley views. An adjacent building houses a gift shop, coffee kiosk, tap room, a small lounge area, and the dining room. These buildings, separated by a large patio, are at the top of a hill and some distance from many of the lodging units.
The lodge offers five classes of rooms that range in price from $106 for rustic cabins similar to those found at Lewis Mountain to $219 for a one-bedroom suite. Family cabins, each with a kitchenette and one or two bedrooms plus a separate living room, rent for $249. Prices are slightly higher from late September to early November, the peak foliage time, and during holidays. Skyland and its two sister lodges are closed during the winter.
While walking through the complex, we happened upon Karen Beck-Herzog, the National Park Service's public affairs officer at Shenandoah. At the time we met, Karen was participating in an appreciation day for members of Shenandoah National Park Trust. Karen related that the park received approximately $30 million in federal stimulus money that was being used for major road work and repairs to 32 overlooks along Skyline Drive.
To limit visitor inconvenience, park management is limiting work to eight overlooks at a time. A portion of the funds is also being used to finance replacement for some of the water pipes that are nearly 75 years old. The stimulus money was designed as a one-time shot of money designated for spending on deferred maintenance projects. Shenandoah was fortunate (or management was wise) because much of the initial studies for maintenance was complete when the money become available.
Following dinner of salmon and Caesar salad (both were excellent) at the Skyland dining room, we came across a couple of people who looked to be doing something important. (The fellow was wearing a tie, which in a national park indicates something beyond the ordinary.) In striking up a conversation we discovered Mark Stamper was Skyland’s food and beverage director, while Diane Stanton is the regional rep for Starbucks. Diane is at Skyland to oversee the operation of a new expresso machine that lodge management had decided to try. If the experiment proves successful, a second machine will be installed down the road at Big Meadows Lodge.
After leaving Skyland, we drove 10 miles south to Big Meadows Lodge, where we will be spending two nights. We have registered for an afternoon Park Service tour of Rapidan Camp, President Herbert Hoover’s nearby summer camp. See you down the road.