Prescribed burn slated at Shenandoah National Park

By Katie Demeria

Shenandoah National Park officials are planning to maintain part of Big Meadows — by burning it.

The 130-acre meadow requires regular maintenance by park staff, according to Public Affairs Officer Karen Beck-Herzog. Burning, she said, is part of that maintenance.

“Fire has a place in the ecosystem,” Beck-Herzog said. “In the past 100 years, the United States and other countries did suppress fires, but they do have their role in maintaining forests.”

The Big Meadows burn is set to take place through Oct. 10. The wide window, Beck-Herzog explained, allows officials to choose exactly the right time to conduct the grass burn.

The day on which the burn itself takes place depends on the staff available, she said, and weather is an important, driving factor.

“Everything from the wind speeds to the moisture level in the fuel is taken into consideration,” she said. “If it’s too dry we don’t want to do it, obviously we don’t want to do it if it’s too hot, and if it’s too wet then we might not get the intensity of the burn that we need.”

In some cases, when trying to keep a vista open like Big Meadows or cutting back an invasive plant species, the fire needs to be very hot, she said.

Big Meadows’ management includes allowing one third of the meadow to remain as it is, mowing another third, then burning the last third, making it about a 35-acre burn. The flames themselves may reach up to 30 feet, as well.

All those factors will be taken into consideration before settling on a final date on which to hold the burn.

Grass burns are usually pretty short, as well, she added. It likely will only be about two hours, and visitors should not be highly impacted. They will have limited access to Big Meadows on that day, but Skyline Drive will still be open.

In the past the fires took place in the spring, Beck-Herzog explained. But several years ago officials were finding that it was not very effective. The hope is that doing it in the fall will create a more effective burn that will better maintain the area.

The government shutdown in 2013 prevented the park from having a burn that fall, she added.

Prescribed burns take place for various reasons, she said. Sometimes they are performed in the southern end of the park in order to aid a type of pine that needs fire to release the seeds in its pinecones.

“Each burn will have its different resource benefits,” Beck-Herzog said.

Contact staff writer Katie Demeria at 540-465-5137 ext. 155, or kdemeria@nvdaily.com