By Carol Vaughn —
Gov. Ralph Northam joined dozens of other conservation advocates in an out-of-the-way forest glade near Greenbush Tuesday to dedicate an expansion of the Doe Creek Wildlife Management Area.
The event was his final public appearance on the Eastern Shore as governor, before his successor, Gov.-elect Glenn Youngkin, takes the oath of office Saturday.
Tuesday’s event was held to celebrate the first closing on land being acquired for a major expansion of the Doe Creek WMA, which formerly included 447 acres composed mostly of upland pine and hardwood mixed forest near Onancock.
The event was held in a spot along Doe Creek Road.
The acquisition is associated with an Eastern Shore land conservation initiative targeting some 8,600 acres, according to Ryan Brown, Virginia Department of Wildlife Resources executive director.
Brown credited DWR staff members Becky Gwynn and David Norris with initiating the push years ago to acquire and conserve the land on the Shore.
“This, here, is forever. For generations to come, the public access that is available here, the habitat conservation, … these are legacy items that will endure forever and ever for the benefit of all Virginians,” Brown said of the WMA expansion.
Brown thanked Northam for his support of the DWR over the past four years.
“This governor is leaving office with a very strong record of wildlife conservation,” Brown said.
Northam called the conservation initiative “a very ambitious goal — over 8,000 acres of forest land.”
The initial acquisition celebrated Tuesday involves around 1,200 acres, according to Northam.
Speaking in the final days of his administration, Northam said, “I don’t think there is anything more important that we can do when we are in positions like this than conserve properties like this,” he said, adding, “ … It’s important for our quality of life and it’s also important for our economy.”
Northam noted the importance of agriculture, including forestry, and tourism to the Shore economy.
Secretary of Natural and Historic Resources Ann Jennings thanked Northam for making natural resource conservation “a top priority for your administration.”
Jennings detailed the contributions of the many agencies involved in bringing about the WMA expansion.
“A land conservation initiative of this magnitude doesn’t happen without an all-in approach from the conservation community,” she said, noting no less than a dozen organizations were involved in the multimillion-dollar project.
Federal grant programs were critical to creating “a funding quilt” of resources to make the expansion happen, according to Jennings.
“The diversity of funding partners is as important and sometimes even more important than the amount of funding that each partner brings to the table,” she said, enumerating the contribution in dollars and effort of each entity involved: The Nature Conservancy, Ducks Unlimited, Wildlife Foundation of Virginia, The Conservation Fund, Atlantic Coast Joint Venture, U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service, American Bird Conservancy, Virginia Land Conservation Foundation, National Fish and Wildlife Foundation through Walmart’s Acres for America Program, Virginia Outdoors Foundation, North American Wetlands Conservation Council Grant Program, National Coastal Wetlands Conservation Grant Program, Wildlife & Sport Fish Restoration Grant Program, the Virginia Department of Wildlife Resources, and a private donor.
“It takes a big village to do this project,” Jennings said.
Karen Terwilliger, Board of Wildlife Resources member, noted more than 3.3 million people in Virginia participate in hunting, fishing, wildlife watching, and similar outdoor pursuits.
“There is no place where that is more evident than the Eastern Shore itself,” Terwilliger said, adding, “The Shore has for decades been a destination for outdoor recreation.”
The expansion of Doe Creek WMA offers new recreational opportunities to more than two million people who live within a 60-mile radius, according to Terwilliger.
Additionally, the acquisition provides natural marsh migration opportunities, she said.
Terwilliger said parking and informational signage will be installed at the newly acquired properties for safe public access.
Many of the tracts will be integrated into the existing Eastern Shore loop of the Virginia Birding and Wildlife Trail and, where feasible, opportunities for bank fishing and nonmotorized boating will be provided, according to Terwilliger.
She noted wildlife-related recreation contributes $3.5 billion annually to local economies in Virginia.
“We truly hope that these new parcels can provide new experiences that draw additional visitors and residents alike to discover this incredible, wonderful place, the Eastern Shore,” Terwilliger said.