Pandapas Pond – Field Guide for a Nature Hike – Blacksburg, Virginia

Pandapas Pond is about 15 minutes northwest of Blacksburg, Virginia and located off of US-460. Primary activities include fishing, trail running, hiking, and hiking with leashed dogs but mountain biking and horseback riding are not allowed. Parking is free, abundant, and accommodates horse trailers. There are two parking lots on the east side of the park. The lower parking lot is for visitors to Pandapas Pond while the upper parking lot is for hikers, mountain bikers and horseback riders seeking access to the Poverty Creek Trail System. The upper parking lot for mountain biking and horseback riding does not have water or restrooms but the Pandapas Pond trails do include restrooms. Cell phone service is moderate while on the trails. A shooting range is nearby so gunshots may be heard while on the trails. The following Google Map shows GPS coordinates recorded by my Android Phone.

 

Pandapas Pond

Walking around both Pandapas Pond and the wetland can total up to 2 miles with very little changes in elevation; starting at around 2,200 feet. The trail is a perfect trail for runners, walkers, and parents with kids because it is wide and smooth.

The following is the elevation chart as estimated by my phone while walking from the parking lot to the pond and then around it to the restrooms.

Jim Pandapas developed the pond as a private recreation area before selling it to the US Forest Service.

The turtles basking in the sun on logs are likely either yellow bellied sliders or red-eared sliders.

Pandapas Pond is stocked with trout from October to May and is up to 14 feet deep in some places. A fishing license and National Forest stamp are required for anyone over the age of 15 wishing to fish. The first Saturday in May is Kid’s Fishing Day; where kids under the age of 16 can win prizes.

 

Tadpoles, Baby Turtles, and Newts in the Wetland

The wetland is the smaller body of water south of Pandapas Pond. It is not stocked with fish so tadpoles, baby turtles, and small fish experience less predation whereas Pandapas Pond is stocked with trout; which feed on smaller aquatic species.

The following picture was taken near the benches on the southern most platform of the wetland. At first, I thought it was a tadpole but talking to other naturalists has revealed that is likely a red-spotted newt. A red-spotted newt begins life as a tadpole in a pond, leaves the water for a couple of years to live on land (with orange-red color skin), and then returns to an aquatic life in a pond or wetland as an adult (with olive green color skin). It was near the benches that I dropped my Olympus Stylus Tough camera in the water and, as advertised, it survived and continues to function at a 100%.

Walking around the wetland includes a quick jaunt into forest canopy where terrestrial species can be seen (see sections below).


More Species of Pandapas Pond

The following sections include species and other interesting things that can be found while walking on the trails around the pond. Helping kids identify plants and animals can foster a greater connection with nature that can stick with them the rest of their lives.

Virginia Pine

Virginia Pine has needles clustered in pairs. It is a pioneer species and shade intolerant. It has a textured bark that attracts insects and, thus, is a hub for birds looking for food. It is not used for timber production.

 

White Pine

White Pine has needles in clusters of five. It is somewhat shade tolerant and not good for wildlife. Unfortunately, I do not have a picture of it yet.

Tree Shelter

You may see tree shelters around Pandapas Pond. The following picture is an example. It is a plastic cylinder protruding from the ground. It is designed to protect a planted tree from deer but can inadvertently become a safe haven for invasive species.

Broom Sage Grass

Broom Sage Grass a native Virginia plant that is not palatable for grazing animals and, thus, has survived in agriculture areas. It grows in clumps that provide cover for small animals while at the same time not inhibiting other plants from growing around it.

Beavers

In 1911, beavers were almost extinct in Virginia and were restored in 1932. They are active in and around Pandapas Pond and the wetland. Male and females live together in beaver lodges, are monogamous, and can live up to 20 years. Their lodges include an indoor platform that sits above the water level. They can hold their breath under water for up to 15 minutes. They typically breed in March and give birth to two to six young in May.

Beavers build dams that raise water levels; which kills trees and opens up the forest canopy. The result is a wetland that is ideal for pioneer species.

The following picture was taken from the southern wooden platform and faces south into the wetland. It is looking at an area where beavers have created a dam that has raised the water level.

Beavers are second only to humans in landscape disruption. In addition to wood, beavers eat shrubs and cause them to sprout horizontally instead of vertically. They eat aquatic vegetation, apples, and can grow up to 80 lbs.

Rhododendron
Rhododendron thrive in fire protected areas like Pandapas Pond. They are not good for plant diversity because they block the sun from smaller plants and shrubs. In addition, they are not much of a food source for wildlife but do offer cover for small mammals.
Hemlock Woolly Adelgid
Hemlock woolly adelgid is a small insect that surrounds itself with a protective white sack (seen in the following picture) and feeds on nutrients flowing inside a branch of a hemlock tree. In some areas, the hemlock woolly adelgid has wiped out all of the hemlock. You can find hemlock near the trails around Pandapas pond that have hemlock woolly adelgid feeding on them. The War Spur Trail is well known for its hemlock trees being victims of the hemlock woolly adelgid.
Table Mountain Pine
Table mountain pine can be identified by its unique cones that remain sealed until they are exposed to heat. The cone on the left was likely warmed by sunlight. However, most cones only open when exposed to a wild fire. The cone on the right is an example of a sealed cone that is protecting its seeds by encasing them with sap and moisture. Pandapas Pond is managed to prevent wild fires so it is not an ideal habitat for table mountain pine. Further, table mountain pine is shade intolerant and prefers less competition from other tall trees.
Coltsfoot

 The subsequent two pictures are of coltsfoot; that is all I know ;).
 Muscovy Ducks

I believe the following are muscovy ducks; please correct me if I am wrong.

 

 

Woods and Field Trail

The Woods and Field trail is 0.3 miles long, wide, flat, and peaceful. It starts at the northern end of the parking lot and to the right of the trailhead map.

It is a good trail to hike on a busy day because the Pandapas Pond trails can become overcrowded whereas this trail remains quiet.

The trail ends at a US Forest Service viewing structure that overlooks a field.

In sum, Pandapas pond is a hub for recreation including hiking, exploring nature with kids, dog walking, fishing, and trail running. What’s more, it is bustling with wildlife and plants that are easy to identify without stepping off trail. Similar trails near Blacksburg include:

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