The great blue heron nesting site at Stafford County’s Crow’s Nest preserve is nearly tripling in size in a 113-acre acquisition deal by the Northern Virginia Conservation Trust.
The $500,000 purchase is the largest property buy in NVCT’s history.
“This is the first property that NVCT has bought that costs more than $12,000,” said Alan Rowsome, executive director of the Northern Virginia Conservation Trust. Since 1994, the trust has fought to conserve land that has natural, historical and cultural value.
“It’s a bolder organization. We’re raising more money. We’re becoming more active and aggressive in finding property,” Rowsome said.
Rowsome said grants and donations helped his organization secure the funds necessary to purchase the vast, undisturbed Stafford wetland adjacent to the existing 70-acre Potomac Creek heronry at Crow’s Nest.
A grant from the Virginia Land Conservation Foundation funded half the cost, and a second grant from the Community Foundation for the Rappahannock River Region brought in $7,500. Over a three-month period, the remaining donations—ranging from $5 to $35,000—came as a result of the largest fundraising campaign ever undertaken in the NVCT’s 26-year history.
“We took a risk and found a lot of people in Northern Virginia who are really, really passionate and excited about being able to support something so tangible, people who care about the environment,” said Rowsome. “Had we not raised the money, we would have had to use our precious reserve dollars.”
As a result of the purchase, Rowsome said the 113 acres are now officially protected at Crow’s Nest and will always be a part of the natural heritage of Stafford and Northern Virginia.
“It wasn’t destined to be that way, had a lot of people not pulled together at the same time to make it happen,” said Rowsome.
Rowsome said the vacant property was first put on the market about a year ago by a couple who live outside the area. He said the previous zoning classification could have allowed up to 40 homes to be built on the land.
“That was the impetus for us to move quickly,” Rowsome said.
The property, which is also adjacent to the All Muslim Association of America cemetery at 1112 Brooke Road, connects to the existing heron nesting site and nearly triples the size of the existing heronry. The protected site will be managed in partnership with the Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation as an addition to the Crow’s Nest Natural Area Preserve.
Mike Lott, who is the northern region supervisor and steward for the Virginia Department of Conservation, said the heronry is one of the most important heritage resources at Crow’s Nest. Last winter, 220 heron nests were documented in the reserve.
“This property provides a buffer to protect that resource,” said Lott, who directly manages Crow’s Nest. “It also provides future nesting habitat and protects the bottomland forest and wetlands along Potomac Creek as well.”
Although there is no public access to the heronry, Lott said overall visitation to Crow’s Nest during the COVID-19 pandemic has been booming at its two public access points.
“At Raven Road, there’s access to eight miles of hiking trails through the best remaining coastal plain hardwood forest protected in Virginia,” he said.
Lott said the Brooke Road access point to Crow’s Nest is extremely popular with the recreational kayakers and anglers, who can observe old chestnut oaks, tulip poplars, hickories or rare plants from the water. Blooming American lotus flowers can also be observed by kayakers at the tidal marsh on Accokeek Creek, he said.
Lott said most of the old-growth forest hasn’t been logged on a commercial scale since the Civil War.
“The biggest unique quality of Crow’s Nest is a forest of that age and intactness that has survived in Northern Virginia with little disturbance,” he said.