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Road improvements would be first step before public access to Crow's Nest could be provided.
A barred owl perches on a limb in Crow's Nest Natural Area Preserve on a recent afternoon. Stafford County
MARIE SICOLA/THE FREE LANCE-STAR
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BY KATIE THISDELL
The 12-person van bumped along the rough road, tires hitting holes and ruts on the mile-and-a-half route into Crow's Nest Natural Area Preserve.
That drive may be proof enough of why the gates can't be thrown open on the preserve.
One of the first questions asked by a group of hikers on a recent warm field day--a rare chance for guided hikes--focused on when the 2,872-acre preserve would be open for everyone to enjoy.
Access to the site hinges on a much-needed $1 million-plus improvement to the one-lane, curvy entrance road, off Raven and Brooke roads in the eastern part of Stafford County.
The state denied a funding request this year. The Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation will keep trying, and will look for other grant opportunities.
Twice a year since 2009, when the tract was officially named a preserve, DCR has hosted field days, allowing dozens to tour the land.
On a recent Saturday, three groups hiked through Crow's Nest, purchased by the county and DCR over two years for $33 million.
"It's arguably the best piece of land in eastern Virginia in a lot of ways," Rick Meyers of DCR told the group of 80 people.
Old-growth forests, deep ravines and freshwater marshes are some of the defining characteristics of the two peninsulas around Accokeek and Potomac creeks.
But Meyers said it'll take "baby steps" to open the site up every day.
SAVING CROW'S NEST
Crow's Nest has a varied life story. It was first inhabited by Native Americans, and Pocahontas was abducted off the shores in 1613. Years later, the site was a plantation owned by the Daniels family.
Their schooner, moored off the shore in the 18th century, was called The Crow, giving the area its name.
Union soldiers burned the plantation house during the Civil War, and for about 100 years after that, not much happened.
In the 1970s, "outrageous" development plans were drawn up, including an airport, golf course, convention center and 4,500 homes.
"Thankfully that didn't end up panning out," Mike Lott, DCR's manager for Crow's Nest, told the group.
The site faced development pressure again in the early 2000s, prompting Save Crow's Nest groups to push for preservation.
Crow's Nest isn't the only piece of land that's been preserved but is waiting for money.
Widewater State Park, on the peninsula between Aquia Creek and the Potomac River, is also closed up, stuck while state lawmakers sort out budget issues.
In 2006, the state acquired the 1,100 acres from the Trust for Public Land for $6.1 million. This came after a lengthy tug of war that pitted the former owner, Dominion Lands (a subsidiary of Dominion Virginia Power) and its preservation partners against local developers who envisioned luxury waterfront houses, a marina, golf course and conference center there, according to a 2006 story in The Free Lance-Star archives.
At the time, officials knew that it could be years before the park was open for public use because of lack of state funding. Today, nearly seven years later, that hasn't changed, said Gary Waugh, spokesman for the Department of Conservation and Recreation, which oversees state parks.
Widewater State Park, along with a handful of other sites purchased in Virginia in the same time period, was designated with a "land banking status." The state wanted to save the pieces of land while they were undeveloped and affordable, rather than waiting until it was too late, Waugh said. Leesylvania State Park staff have oversight of the land, such as checking for trespassing.
A master plan was drawn up in 2008 for what the park could look like at build-out, done in three phases, at a total of $53 million.
The land is home to a rich collection of aquatic and plant life. Like nearby Crow's Nest, it has historic significance--a Civil War cemetery is at the tip of the peninsula, and wartime trenches are scattered through the property.
But here's the new part of the story.
At the request of Del. Mark Dudenhefer of Stafford, DCR is taking another look at that master plan to see if there are amenities that could be offered much sooner, at a lower cost, for day-use activities, Waugh said. This could include moving up the installation of a picnic area and boat launch for kayaks and canoes, rather than focusing on infrastructure improvements, Waugh said. DCR will look into the possibility at the beginning of 2013. At least one public meeting would be held.