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Chesapeake Bay News


Tributary Tuesday: Cowpasture River (Highland County, Va.)

In Virginia, there is a local legend that explains how the Cowpasture River and its surrounding streams were named: A group of Native Americans stole a herd of cattle from a settler and headed west. The calves tired first, and were left behind at the river now known as the Calfpasture. The cows were able to make it a bit farther, to Cowpasture. And the bulls, with greater strength and stamina, made it to Bullpasture.

Image courtesy Bruce Thomson/Flickr

The tale might not be true, but the names still fit. All three rivers are bordered by pastureland and meadows, a perfect habitat for indigo buntings, northern bobwhite and other open-country birds, as well as local livestock.

The nearby George Washington and Jefferson National Forests and state natural lands offer opportunities for outdoor enthusiasts to experience this rustic, rural watershed.

If you would rather explore “underground,” be sure to check out the region’s caves and sinkholes. During periods of extended drought, the Cowpasture River dries up and flows only beneath the ground, through the limestone caves. 

Image courtesy Bruce Thomson/Flickr

More from the Cowpasture River:

About Caitlin Finnerty - Caitlin Finnerty is the Communications Staffer at the Chesapeake Research Consortium and Chesapeake Bay Program. Caitlin grew up digging for dinosaur bones and making mud pies in Harrisburg, Pa. Her fine arts degree landed her environmental field work jobs everywhere from Oregon to Maryland. Now settled in Baltimore, she is eagerly expecting her first child while creating an urban garden oasis on her cement patio.


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