CREATING NATURE PRESERVE IN STAFFORD TOOK YEARS
By Hal Wiggins Apr 21, 2017
THE April 1 opening of Crow’s Nest Natural Area Preserve was a great event for the people of Stafford County and the world. The preservation of this 2,872-acre fragile ecosystem was an extraordinary effort that took over 15 years of negotiations.
Among the many important biological attributes contained within Crow’s Nest are 2,200 acres of mature hardwood forest, including two forest types that are recognized as globally rare by the Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation’s Natural Heritage Program. There are 750 acres of tidal and nontidal wetlands on the Crow’s Nest peninsula that account for 60 percent of all the marshes in Stafford County, and represent some of the best examples of diverse and intact wetland habitats in the Potomac River drainage, along with 21 miles of stream, riparian and wetland buffer.
A partnership to buy Crow’s Nest came from a variety of funding sources, including VDCR , Stafford County, the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality and the Aquatic Resources Trust fund of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, The Nature Conservancy, and the Virginia Land Conservation Foundation.
The individuals who originally understood the importance and had the vision to save the peninsula are many.
Individuals from VDCR such as Johnny Mitchell, Tom Smith, Larry Smith, Joe Maroon and Gary Fleming came to Crow’s Nest and understood the biological importance of the peninsula. Local government officials such as Kandy Hilliard and Ferris Belman came to Crow’s Nest in the 1990s to see its extraordinary beauty and were early proponents to save the peninsula. Congresswoman Jo Ann Davis (now deceased) was one of the first to visit Crow’s Nest and push for protection in the late 1990s.
In 2000, the Trust for Crow’s Nest was formed and began raising money to fund maintenance of the preserve. The descendants of the Daniel family, the original owners of Crow’s Nest in the 1800s—such as Raleigh and Travers Daniel—provided funds and support in the early days.
I remember the endless hours of educational opportunities that Bill Micks of the Virginia Outdoor Center and I and planned, with canoe outings with teachers to learn about Crow’s Nest. I also remember Alma Withers, Norris Dickard, and Paul Gilbert of the Northern Virginia Conservation Trust who helped get things off the ground. The Virginia and Maryland native plant societies helped do plant inventories of the property. I remember Anne Little of the Save Crow’s Nest organization collecting money in a basket at a local fire department event. Local media and The Washington Post provided great coverage of Crow’s Nest over the years, too.
There were several attempts to secure a purchase contract with the owners of Crow’s Nest; at least three failed. Efforts to preserve Crow’s Nest had several hopeful but unsuccessful attempts until 2006, when Paul Milde got busy and worked to negotiate a sale and to come up with the money to buy Crow’s Nest. Paul was the lead and sole representative in all meetings with Kamel Tabarra, who represented the landowner at that time. Thanks to Supervisors Milde, Jack R. Cavalier, Mark Dudenhefer, Robert C. Gibbons and George H. Schwartz, the Stafford board passed a resolution in December 2007 that authorized approval of an agreement to buy part of the Crow’s Nest property, with an option to purchase the remainder. This became a reality in 2008 with the first acquisition. In 2009, VDCR and Stafford County added 1,110 acres to the Crow’s Nest Natural Area Preserve, bringing the total area of Virginia’s 54th state natural area preserve to 2,872 acres.
The list of local people who worked hard in the early days to save Crow’s Nest are too great to fully mention. I wish to give my thanks to all for a dream come true. Thank you.
More information about the preserve, including its times of operation, can be found at dcr.virginia.gov/natural-heritage/natural-area-preserves/crowsnest.
Hal Wiggins, an environmental scientist, is retired from the Army Corps of Engineers. He lives in Spotsylvania, and has advocated saving Crow’s Nest since the early 1990s.