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State closes deal on Crow’s Nest

Thursday, July 30, 2009
Twelve-hundred acres were added to the Crow’s Nest Natural Area Preserve yesterday.
Called the “crown jewel” of the state’s natural preserve system, Crow’s Nest now consists of 2,970 acres wedged between Potomac and Accokeek creeks in Stafford County.
“We had a huge dilemma four years ago with the Crow’s Nest on the verge of development,” said Supervisor Paul Milde, who was involved in negotiating the sale. “Fast-forward 3 years and we have a 2,900-acre nature preserve in our county that will be there for generations.”
By drawing funding from a patchwork of state and federal sources, the Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation cobbled together $14.2 million to exercise an option and purchase phase two of the project. K&M Properties lowered their original asking price for phase two by $2 million earlier this year, provided the county could close by the end of July.
It happened at 1:15 p.m. yesterday, with paperwork being shuffled to Gov. Tim Kaine and his cabinet while they visited the new Germanna center in Stafford.
The two purchases cost a total of $33.2 million. Phase one’s 1,770 acres cost $19 million.
While $9.5 million of phase one money came from Stafford, phase two was purchased without local funds. DCR and Stafford are joint owners of the preserve.
Regarded as a national treasure among conservation groups, the undeveloped peninsula is a threatened ecosystem. Aside from tidal wetlands, rare plant species and prime bird habitat, the peninsula contains some of the last and best remaining North Atlantic coastal plain dry calcareous forest in the world.
Hal Wiggins is an environmental scientist in the Army Corps of Engineers’ Fredericksburg field office. He has been an advocate for preserving Crow’s Nest for 15 years.
“The protection of Crow’s Nest is hugely important for the area,” he said. “It’s one of the last remaining coastal plain forests with globally threatened plant communities. They are so rare.”
Currently, access to the property is limited, but the public will eventually be able to hike and canoe there. The DCR is actively seeking funds to build the necessary infrastructure.
And this might not be the end of land acquisition. Adjoining acreage known as Crow’s Nest Harbor is still unprotected. It was not part of the original sales agreement and would require new negotiations.
“We’re not going to give up on phase three,” Milde said. “But for now, we’re doing pretty well. It’s not every day that a politician can say what they do will be forever. This is forever.”