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Families far and wide flock to park for program
Jeanette Lawler, park ranger at Fairy Stone State Park, presents an interpretive program about Fairy Stones recently. Children and their parents participated in the program, which included an explanation of what the stones are made of and an excursion to hunt for them. (Bulletin photo by Mike Wray)
The search for Fairy Stones is among the most popular for visitors at Fairy Stone State Park.
Park Ranger Jeanette Lawler, who leads the excursions, said she thought about renaming the trail that leads to a Fairy Stone hunting ground to “‘Is This The One Trail,’” because she is so often asked “Is this one ...”
But Park Ranger Billy Whitlow said the park offers a full slate of activities for visitors, including arts and crafts and other nature/ history programs.
One of the more popular is Canoeing With Ghosts, a haunted canoe tour on the lake in which participants learn about the old iron boomtown of Fayerdale, the town now covered by the lake, he said.
Searching for Fairy Houses and Gnome Homes is another activity, as is a Lake Explorers program in which participants use a net to catch a minnow, dragonfly nymph or a handful of tadpoles and park interpreters help identify the catch and provide other information.
Rocks N Rockets!, making a Pine Cone birdfeeder, and Sandy Shorts are among several other offerings for visitors.
While the schedule of some events changes, other events may be held at the same time.
For instance, a park naturalist will lead a guided hike on a different trail in the park each Thursday in July, and Fairy Stone Park also added a Farmer’s Market on each Monday during the summer, where local growers sell fresh produce, baked goods, eggs, honey and other products.
The park also includes an Equestrian Center, where — for a nominal fee — visitors can board their horses in one of several stalls and camp nearby, Whitlow said. Horses and riders can access the park’s various trails from the center.
But the search for the crystallized fairy tears for which the park was named was what attracted the most participants on a recent sunny Saturday.
Hunt participants meet at the Visitor’s Center, located just inside the park. There, they learn about — or in some cases, teach — the legend of the elusive Fairy Stones.
When Lawler asked if anyone knew how Fairy Stones originated, brothers Masen and Davon “D.J.” Young recounted the story they had learned.
Fairies, they said, were dancing around a spring of water, playing with naiads and wood nymphs, when an elfin messenger arrived from a city far away and brought the news of Christ’s crucifixion.
The fairies wept, and as their tears crystallized as they fell to earth, forming the familiar crosses, D.J. Young said.
The Youngs, of Hampton, were among a recent group of participants, along with their mother, Cristal Chetney. She said that her family learned about Fairy Stone Park during a Memorial Day weekend camping trip near the James River.
The Fairy Stone search was “a great hands-on science lesson,” Chetney said. “My kids usually don’t take part in the interpretative events” at other parks, “but they were up at 7 this morning. ... It was a long ride” to Fairy Stone from Hampton, Chetney said, “but so far, it’s been worth it.”
Besides the hunt, participants learned more about the Fairy Stone legend.
“There are fairies still in the world today, they just don’t show themselves” any more, Lawler said. She explained that Fairy Stones actually are made of a mineral called staurolite — a combination of silica, iron and aluminum — that was formed during the rise of the Appalachian Mountains.
Unveiling several large wooden examples of Fairy Stones, Lawler explained that those which most resemble the ‘T’ shaped Roman crosses and square Maltese crosses are rare.
Hunters, she said, are more likely to find a single crystal — which can have four- or six- sides, or a “twining” stone, a shape that happens when a second cross forms on the single crystal.
But nature “doesn’t like straight lines,” and participants are most likely to find the ‘X’ shaped crosses, called the St. Andrew’s cross. “X marks the spot,” she said.
Lawler also discussed other possible finds on the hunt, such as shist, mica and garnets.
Participants drove the three miles or so to the actual hunting grounds, and there embarked on the half-mile, dead-end trail of stones.
Alex Blanton, 11, was the first to shout “Mom, I found a staurolite.”
His mother, Melissa Blanton of Roanoke, said her children, Madeline, 6, Holden, 9, and Alex “are enjoying this.” The park stay and the search for Fairy Stones were the family’s first as well. “I do think we will come back” and visit the park again, Blanton said.
Excitement continued to build among participants still searching for a Fairy Stone and asking Lawler, “Is this one?”
Examining one find, Lawler said the large piece of shist contained a “little garnet. See right there?”
“I just got some mica and schist,” another voice said.
Nearby, Patti Banton, who was visiting Fairy Stone Park for the first time with her daughters, Jessica, 17 and Sara, 14, continued searching for a Fairy Stone.
Banton said that Jessica was accepted at Ferrum College and will start classes there soon. The last time the trio was in the area, they passed a sign for Fairy Stone while on their way to stay in a motel.
But after her recent trip to the park, “I definitely would recommend” it, said Banton, of Richmond.
Besides the hunt, her daughters fished, swam and generally enjoyed themselves, she added, as someone else in the group said “I think I’ve found a cross.”
Although she has led many of the hunts, and visited the park often before starting work there in April, Lawler stopped along the trail to gently retrieve an item from her backpack.
“This is addictive,” she said of searching for the stones. Holding a cross shaped stone in one hand, Lawler beamed. “I found my perfect one yesterday,” she said.
For more information about the park, it’s calendar of events and facilities, visit www.dcr.virginia.gov online or call the park at 930-2424.