We are lucky to have three Natural Area Preserves in Northumberland County - Bush Mill Stream, Hughlett Point and Dameron Marsh. Begun in 1986 by the Commonwealth of Virginia and The Nature Conservancy, the program became the Natural Heritage Program administered by the Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation (DCR) in 1988. The program was established to protect the State’s diversity of life, and focuses on the identification, protection and stewardship of the “habitat of rare, threatened or endangered plant and animal species, rare or state significant natural communities or geologic sites, and similar features of scientific interest benefiting the welfare of the citizens of the Commonwealth.” Public access is provided for passive recreation, education and nature study, but these areas are not intended for active recreational purposes. No sanitary facilities or trash receptacles exist, and vehicles, bicycles, horseback riding and unrestrained pets are prohibited.
Bush Mill Stream, located in the headwaters of the Great Wicomico River, incorporates 103 acres of upland forests and wetlands. A Great Blue Heron rookery occupies the treetops in the swamp west of the Preserve, and a rare tidewater amphipod (a small shrimp-like animal) lives associated with some of the fresh-water springs. The property was acquired through Henry Bashore’s persistent efforts over a two-year period. As a forester, Henry had managed timber on the property for the owner, Jerry Linsley. When he retired as Northumberland county Forester, and became a part-time realtor, the property came on the market. Unable to bear the thought of development, even though it would have meant an easy sale, Henry obtained $3000 from the upper Lancaster Ruritan Club and then $15,000 from the Northern Neck Audubon Society. An article in the “Rappahannock Record” on Aug. 31, 1989, resulted in more donations, including $1,000 from the Chesapeake Bay Garden Club, bringing the total local support to approximately $25,000. With this level of support “in the bank,” and recognition of the importance of the site for foraging Herons, The Nature Conservancy finally acknowledged the opportunity and closed on the property in 1990, subsequently selling it to DCR in 1992.
Hughlett Point is located on Chesapeake Bay, and contains 204 acres of wetlands, beaches, dunes and upland forest communities. It is home to a federally protected insect species, the Northeastern beach tiger beetle, and provides important habitat for waterfowl, songbirds and birds of prey. When development of the property and building a restaurant, motel and 35 homes on the site was proposed, immediate citizen resistance was raised, especially from the Dividing Creek Association. DCR applied for and received a $654,000 National Coastal Wetlands Conservation Grant. This grant, along with grants from the Virginia Natural Area Preservation Fund, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the Northern Neck Audubon Society and the Dividing Creek Association resulted in purchase of the property by the state in 1997. Mr. Larry Smith, natural area protection manager of DCR was most responsible for acquiring Hughlett Point and insuring its preservation in perpetuity, aided by such local leaders as Ann Carl, Landon Trigg, John and Peg Overholt, and then County Supervisor Henry Lane Hull.
Dameron Marsh extends into Chesapeake Bay, forming the southern margin of Ingram Bay. Unfortunately it suffers from extremely severe erosion. It was sold to The Nature Conservancy (TNC), with a donation component, by the Smith family of Richmond, assisted by the Northern Neck Audubon Society. The property was sold by TNC to DCR with partial funding provided by a $735,000 grant from the U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service, as well as State funds. Once used for agriculture, the wetlands are in the process of being restored and invasive patches of Phragmites controlled. Public access is planned to open in the summer of 2003.
A fourth area, Kohl’s Island, which incorporates Smith Point itself and a beach where the Potomac River empties into Chesapeake Bay, is owned by the Virginia Outdoors Foundation. It is home to the endangered Tiger Beetle, just as is true of Hughlett Point (and Dameron Marsh). The old entrance to the Little Wicomico River, which once bordered the western end of the island, has recently been built-up by the Corps of Engineers using dredge spoil from the present channel. Planted with grass, it is hoped the connection to the “mainland” will now be permanent, but no public access by land exists, or is planned.
These areas are major assets for the County, and it is up to us to help monitor and maintain them in accord with mandate of DCR for Natural Heritage Areas. If you would like to help the 30 people who currently monitor Hughlett Point (more will be needed when Dameron Marsh opens to the public this summer), please contact Sib and Jane Towner at 435-3566 or firstname.lastname@example.org. NAPS is also initiating a citizen’s monitoring group for Bush Mill Stream, and if you are interested in participating please contact Mary and Porter Kier at 529-6494 or email@example.com.
More information about these unique areas can be found at: www.dcr.virginia.gov/natural_heritage/natural_area_preserves.