A Safe Place to Land at Big Meadows
Anne & Bill Seaman
One month after a recently widowed Anne found a safe place for her and her two young sons at the Big Meadows Lodge, Bill sat in that very same Lodge and wrote a postcard to Anne with the message: Looking forward to meeting you.
Bill & Anne celebrate their love with a yearly trip to Big Meadows!
Mutual friends back home in Gainesville, Florida had mentioned setting the two up on a date but hadn’t yet made it happen. When Anne and Bill finally did go out on their first date, he presented her with the postcard from Shenandoah National Park.
“I just thought, ‘How did you know I love this Park?’” Anne said. “He didn’t. After a business trip to DC, he decided to visit the Park before returning home. He sat in the Lodge dining room and wrote the postcard that he hand carried to our date. I sat there staring at that postcard, as he described the Park, the Lodge and the ambiance. Turns out, each of us had fallen in love with the Park and Big Meadows at first sight! I often say that we met at Big Meadows, just not at the same time. So, of course, our first trip together after our wedding was to Shenandoah National Park.”
Bill wrote Anne a postcard from Shenandoah before they met.
And they’ve been returning to the Shenandoah from their home in North Carolina at least once a year, ever since. They have become active supporters of the Park, volunteering at Rapidan Camp, donating to help fund Park programming and initiatives, and advocating to keep the Big Meadows Lodge a haven for future generations.
“It was such a place of healing,” Anne remembered. “It’s not just the love story; when I was there with my little boys, it was safe, it was warm, it was just perfect for me and the boys.”
Ashely Seaman & Duane Taylor were married at Big Meadows.
Big Meadows became such a center point of their romance that Bill’s daughter, Ashley, packed her fiancé and his six children into an RV and made the trip from Colorado to Virginia so she could get married on the patio of the Big Meadows Lodge, celebrating with Bill and Anne as generations of their family got to experience the Park they love.
The couple celebrated their 25th anniversary this past May with another visit to Big Meadows, and they offer this piece of advice to young couples: “Make sure that you’re marrying your best friend.”
A New Home in Luray
Rod & Isabel Graves
When Isabel Lopes left Portugal in 1990 to visit friends in Virginia, she had no idea her trip would lead to falling in love with both a Park and a life partner.
“I met the Park before I met Rod,” said Isabel. “I went up to the Park with my friends here, and it was so beautiful. I remember being up there and telling my friends, ‘I would not mind living here and coming up here all the time.’” Little did she know that within a year she would be moving to Luray and accepting a marriage proposal from Rod Graves.
Rod, now the Vice President of Luray Caverns, was a recent college graduate when his mother encouraged him to attend a dinner at the home of Bob Jacobson, the retired Superintendent of Shenandoah National Park, and meet the young woman visiting from Portugal.
“When we met, I saw her and I was like, ‘oh my God, there’s my wife,’” Rod remembered. But Isabel had no intention of staying in the United States, despite having a similar sensation of having met her life partner, and Rod wanted to pursue his master’s degree in art.
After a terrible first date at the movies (neither of them liked the movie!), Rod decided that, for his second chance, he’d do something they’d both enjoy and take Isabel up to Shenandoah National Park. Seeing Rod’s love for the Park, Isabel thought, “It takes a special kind of person to have this kind of appreciation for nature,” and gave him another chance.
Rod & Isabel spend as much time as they can exploring Shenandoah together.
After months of writing letters to one another across the Atlantic, Isabel invited Rod to visit. So Rod flew to Portugal in his brand new cowboy hat! “I just thought the world of her,” said Rod. “I never thought I’d be lucky enough to have a romance with her, but we fell in love in Portugal.”
After returning home, Rod convinced Isabel to leave her teaching job and to come to Luray to see if their relationship could work.
Isabel officially moved to Virginia and the couple hiked in the Park as often as they could. After a few months, Rod took Isabel trout fishing at a hidden waterfall and pool on his family’s property, which bordered the Park at Tanners Ridge.
As Isabel was taking in the beautiful scenery, Rod got on his knees and asked her to marry him. Thinking he was joking, she theatrically accepted and was stunned whenever Rod opened a velvet box and sunlight glinted off the diamond nestled within. Realizing he was serious, Isabel decided not to change her answer, and the couple rushed home to share the news with their friends and family.
Since that day, Rod & Isabel have purchased a Shenandoah National Park pass every year and spent as much time as they can hiking and picnicking along Skyline Drive. “It’s magic to us,” said Rod.
The Graves shared their love for the Park with their daughter, Laura, and her cousins.
“We have realized just how precious it is,” agreed Isabel. “Just in the time since we met each other and have been married, there have been a lot of natural disasters threatening the Park.” From locusts, Emerald Ash Borers, Hemlock Woolly Adelgids and other tree diseases to acid rain; ice storms; air pollution; and COVID-19.
“It’s a fragile landscape,” said Isabel, remembering when old growth hemlocks towered over Dark Hollow Falls and Limberlost. “But in the middle of all this, when I enter Skyline Drive or go on the trail, I do it with reverence. It just amazes me.”
“There are solutions to all these things, we just have to figure out what they are and address it,” stated Rod. The Graves family has a long history of working to protect the Park, its natural resources, and neighbors. Rod joined our Board of Trustees in 2021 and has been continuing his family’s legacy of loving Shenandoah with Isabel and their daughter Laura.
The Graves family sold ~900 acres of their land along the Tanners Ridge boundary line – the place Rod & Isabel got engaged in May 32 years ago – to the Trust in order to protect the area for future generations as part of Shenandoah National Park. The Trust gave the land to the Park, and the official ribbon cutting ceremony will take place this May!
Through a corporate partnership between Luray Caverns & the Trust, the family also donated $35,000 to the Trust in order to protect black bears in Shenandoah and educate visitors about bear safety.
We are beyond thankful for their continued support and unwavering love for one another and Shenandoah National Park!
A Winter Proposal on Blackrock Summit
Ember & David Heishman
On April 11, 2019, Ember Rensel accepted a Trust-funded internship at Shenandoah National Park.
On April 12, 2019, she *finally* agreed to date David Heishman.
David grew up in the Shenandoah Valley, and he was thrilled to take Ember on a tour of her future workplace. Ember began her internship with Appalachian Conservation Corps in June, living and working at Big Meadows. David made the drive up the mountain nearly every weekend, rain or shine (or thick fog!), to attend Ember’s programs and hike as many trails as they could.
Ember & David’s early dates involved hiking in the Park.
David attended as many of Ember’s interpretive programs as he could!
“Shenandoah is an incredible place to really get to know someone,” said Ember. “We decided to hike the Cedar Run & Whiteoak Canyon Loop once, and halfway up the canyon it started thundering and pouring rain! I’ve always loved hiking in the rain, but I wasn’t sure how David would react. But he just laughed, and that storm turned the hike into one of our most memorable dates!”
After Ember’s internship ended and she began a fellowship with the National Park Service – Rivers, Trails & Conservation Assistance program in D.C., the couple continued to explore Shenandoah. In February of 2020, Ember planned a winter hike for their friends while her sister was visiting. When the group got to the Park, they were told the trail they wanted to hike was closed due to ice, so they decided to hike Blackrock Summit instead.
“I’d wondered if maybe David was planning to propose on this hike, since he’d looked up a trail map online the week before,” said Ember. “But when they told us the trail was closed, he didn’t seem nervous at all, so I figured he must not have a plan!”
David did, however, have a plan. “When I heard it was closed, I tried to act as normal as possible and not let it be a big deal,” he remembered. “I got back to the car, freaked out a little, then figured that whichever hike she picked was going to be a beautiful place to do it, especially since we were going for a scenic ridge hike.”
When they reached the summit of the rock scramble at Blackrock, David asked Ember to pose for a photo, then knelt and opened a ring box, and it was all Ember could do to nod and not let the winter wind knock her off the rock!
David proposed to Ember at Blackrock Summit on a windy winter day.
Throughout the first years of their marriage, Ember & David have continued to be avid Park visitors. In 2021, after the couple built tree cages at an SNPT volunteer event, Ember reached out to the Trust to see if they’d be interested in hosting her as an academic intern as she completed her master’s degree at James Madison University.
“I already loved Shenandoah, and I’d seen firsthand just how important the Trust’s work is in the Park – I mean, they opened doors to a career path that I never would have had without their funding,” said Ember, explaining that she’d wanted to give back and help create opportunities for other people like the one she’d had in 2019. “On a personal level,” she added, “without that internship relocating me to Virginia, I’m honestly not sure I would have agreed to start a relationship with David, and I can’t imagine where I’d be now.”
This past fall, the Trust hired Ember as their full-time Communications Manager, and she and David are hoping to be life-long neighbors and lovers of the Park!
Does your love story feature Shenandoah National Park? Whether you went on dates, got engaged or married, or fell in love with the Park on a trip with your loved ones, let us know! We’d love to share your love next Valentine’s season!
Check out our Facebook and Instagram pages for more of this year’s Love Stories in Shenandoah.