Mint Springs Valley Park

-- Updated August 30, 2000 
with information about recent black bear sightings -- 

Photo of Mint Springs entrance
Photo of Mint Springs
With more than 500 acres of land and 3.6 miles of walking trails, Mint Springs Valley Park is one of the largest parks in the area. The park has picnic areas, a playground, restroom facilities, and three ponds, the largest of which has a small beach along one bank which is crowded with bipedal (dogs are NOT allowed in the beach area -- fair enough) swimmers from Memorial Day weekend to Labor Day.

Mint Springs Valley Park is located about 15 miles west of Charlottesville (and nearly two miles west of Crozet). From downtown Crozet, take Route 788 west to Route 684 and follow the signs. The park is open until dark year round, but an admission fee is charged from Memorial Day weekend to Labor Day.

Despite the fact that there is no sign at the park stating that dogs must be leashed, there is in fact a leash law for all Albemarle County parks which states that dogs must be kept on the leash at all times (County Code Book, sec.11-120). To our knowledge, this regulation is enforced only during the summer months when the park is a key attraction for swimmers and picnickers. During the late fall to early spring months, the leash regulation does not appear to be enforced very vigorously, if at all. Rather than relying on lax enforcement, however, dog owners in the greater Charlottesville area should work together to overturn bad laws such as this one.

Photo of Mint Springs
Photo of Mint Springs trail sign
Mint Springs does not appear to be the place to go to meet other dogs and their Significant Human Others. As far as we can tell, there is no regular daily gathering of "dog people" there. In other words, the contrast with Azalea Park could not be more pronounced in this regard.
Photo of Mint Springs trail
Photo of Mint Springs
The cityofdogs.com, however, does recommend this park as a place to take a dog because of the very impressive nature trails you will find there. There are four separate trails with a total length of 3.6 miles. The longer trails wind their way into the surrounding mountains.
Photo of Mint Springs boulders
Photo of Mint Springs
With that recommendation we must add a very important WARNING: black bears have been seen at the park on several occasions in recent months. Unlike at the Greenbelt where you can pretend to have gotten away from civilization (especially if you're near-sighted, slightly deaf, and don't have a very keen sense of smell), you really are quite deep in the woods on some of these trails, and you should be aware of the risk. On Monday July 10, 2000 two area residents, each with a dog, were walking along one of the trails at Mint Springs Park. At one point, their dogs suddenly caught a scent of something and ran a short distance up a hill. The following is an excerpt from an account we recently received of this incident: 
"Soon after running up the hill, a warning bark was let out by my dog and a few seconds later a lot of yelping and crying. My friend and I were frantic. I was screaming my head off and my friend ran up the hill after the sounds. Soon, his dog appeared and then I saw my dog running toward me with the bear hot on his heels...about 15 feet behind my dog! The bear was charging down the hill after my dog in my direction. Luckily, my friend's screaming seemed to stop the bear, and it turned around. His dog was bitten by the bear and had to have surgery for two bites around his tail and now has a drainage tube and staples. The vet says he is lucky to be alive."


Since we received this story, we've heard three third hand accounts of black bear sightings at Mint Springs Park, all of which occurred this summer. These black bear sightings are consistent with recent studies indicating the black bear population in Virginia and the Mid-Atlantic region has grown several fold in just the past 25 years or so.

Photo of Mint Springs
In addition to the potential for having a highly dramatic and extremely unpleasant encounter with a black bear, there is another important factor to consider before unleashing your dog in this park. Given the remote locations of some of the trails and the vast expanse of forest both in and surrounding the park, this is definitely NOT the place to take a dog that is prone to running off. We wouldn't like the odds of being able to recover a dog that had run off into the vast wilderness surrounding this park in "hot pursuit" of a deer or some tantalizing scent.

 
Photo of Mint Springs
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Please send your comments, corrections, and suggestions to Jon Rice at jgr9a@cstone.net


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