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Public's patience neededfor access to Crow's Nest page 2
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 and the state Department of Conservation and Recreation want to provide public access.
MARIE SICOLA/THE FREE LANCE-STAR
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Date published: 11/19/2012

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That's when the Board of Supervisors partnered with DCR to purchase much of the land, though a 1,000-acre tract that borders Crow's Nest is now divided among a handful of owners, mostly limited liability companies, that haven't recently presented any plans.

These lots, in what's called Crow's Nest Harbour, can be developed only if they use public utilities, but the county doesn't intend to bring lines to the area. One owner is appealing the public utility requirement.

A pilot transfer of development rights program was recently OK'd by the Planning Commission. It could enable owners to voluntarily move their development rights into other areas in the county, restricting growth near Crow's Nest. The Board of Supervisors will discuss the land-use program soon.

Chairwoman Susan Stimpson recently brought up the Crow's Nest purchase at a board meeting, saying it may not have been a solid financial decision. Stafford paid $9 million. The total land is now assessed at $11.5 million, though it was $35 million at the time of purchase.

"Maybe this one didn't end up being a great deal for the taxpayers of Stafford County. It's obvious right now we paid a lot for land a lot of it is wetlands," Stimpson said.

Supervisor Paul Milde, a proponent of preservation, said, "I would do it again over and over and over until I was out of land in Stafford if I had votes for it."

NEW TRAILS BEING BUILT

The public at last has a limited opportunity to explore Crow's Nest.

A part of the preserve is north of Accokeek Creek, a strip of land along the freshwater tidal marshes.

It's where beavers have built a lodge, and ducks, geese and tundra swans spend their winter. Crow's Nest offers managed waterfowl hunting to a small group.

Earlier this year, DCR used grant money to build a 20-space parking lot just off Brooke Road. A porous pavement that may make you think of the computer game Tetris will filter rainwater and prevent runoff.

But the lot had been gated up for months, never opened for public use. Lott says there were delays in getting informational signs made, detailing the scientific importance of freshwater marshes and of Crow's Nest itself.


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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.

--Katie Thisdell