Shenandoah National Park: Relocated

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PAGE COUNTY, Va (WHSV) -- Shenandoah National Park provides memories for everyone who visits, but some memories date back to before the park was even established in 1935.

Marlene Bell remembers, "We had to climb the trees and pick the cherries and the apples and the blackberries, and we all went."

The mountains were home to thousands of people spanning almost 80 thousand acres.

Marlene Bell was one of them. But she, like many others who called the area home in the 1930s, was told to leave.

"If you can think that somebody would come into your home and say your house, you have to sell your house and you have to move to a new area," said Bell.

She was only 5 years old when her family was evicted. As a young girl, the move was an adventure, but it was a different experience for her mother.

"It was harder on her than anyone else," said Bell. "She was the one that had grown up in the mountains."

Her family was relocated to the Ida Grove resettlement area, with the mountains still in sight. She recently moved back to the same road that her family was moved to back then.

"That was our playground", Bell says about being so close to the mountains.

"You could always hear in their stories they would tell that they hated leaving it," says Clyde Jenkins.

Jenkins' family has a different story. He still lives in the home his grandfather built in 1898.

Jenkins still lives the way his family did: "It's how I was raised," he told WHSV.

His grandfather was actually counting on the money from the buy-out, when the Commonwealth of Virginia was acquiring land through eminent domain to establish the park. But the government restructured the boundaries, which left out Jenkins' family home.

"Money was not to be had, he worked himself to death. They found him up in a cornfield up in the mountain in May of the next year," Jenkins said. "He was dead, he had worked himself to death and had a heart attack."

What's left of those nearly 500 families can still be spotted behind the trees surrounding Skyline Drive. Sometimes it's pieces of an old home, or an old cemetery, still visited by loved ones.

Bell's family goes into the park for that very reason.

"Our family graveyard is still in the park and we have made trips up there and plan to do another trip before too long," she said.

The memories are strong. And the stories still live on with the help of people like Clyde Jenkins.

"Let's go ahead and start a basket," says Jenkins to a circle of students with pieces of wood in hand.

For the past 17 years, he has taught a basket weaving class at the Big Meadow Lodge, recounting the history of the area.

"A lot of the groups get interested in things that I've heard, stories that I've told, things that I've learned about people, things that were handed down to me," said Jenkins.

Both Jenkins and Bell are part of the Blue Ridge Heritage Project in Page County, working to make sure those relocated are remembered.

Both have words of advice for anyone visiting the park.

"If they see an orchard where there are apples and cherries and pears, somebody lived there. That didn't get there accidentally," said Bell.

"Rather than coming and just enjoying the beauty of the mountains, of the leaves in the fall, seeing the flowers as you drive by the road, watching the animals," said Jenkins. "I would love for people to get an idea of how people lived in a time that has passed now."

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In the Related Stories section of this article, you can find articles on the Town of Shenandoah offering land to honor families displaced by the Shenandoah National Park, Senator Tim Kaine hiking in the park, the centennial celebration of the National Park Service this year, and much more.

In The Related Links section, you can also find out more about the Blue Ridge Heritage Project and all their efforts.