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Public's patience neededfor access to Crow's Nest page 3
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.
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Date published: 11/19/2012


Those signs were installed last week, Lott said Monday. Two short walks lead to the creek's edge, directly across from where hikers will one day explore the 3-mile Accokeek Creek Loop.

DCR is in the permitting process to install a 350-foot pier at the parking lot, across the marsh and into the creek's channel. In the next year, kayakers and canoeists could explore Crow's Nest via a paddling trail.

Meanwhile, Lott, a former environmental planner for Stafford, has been busy just about every day using the grant money leftover from the parking lot before it runs out at the end of the year.

With various volunteers from DCR's Heritage Program, Lott is building and refurbishing trails throughout the preserve.

Even though it will be years before those trails are open to the public, he said it makes sense to do whatever work that he can now, while money is available.

On one of November's last warm days, a group of volunteers trimmed the remaining roots, sloped the edge of the pathway and pounded down the dirt on a piece of the Accokeek Creek Loop that detours what is otherwise quite a steep climb.

The new path will bypass one of Lott's favorite trees, a magnificent beech, the biggest he's found in the preserve.

"I love that tree," Lott told hikers at the field day. "Every time there's a storm, I think it's going to come down."

While many trees fell or were bent and twisted by the winds in the June 29 derecho, the beech wasn't hurt at all.

Hikers pointed out some of these damaged trees as they walked along another new piece of the loop that had been completed just before the field day. Mountain laurel lit up the sides of the path, as the sun shimmered off the shiny leaves.

On another slope that hasn't been used on field days because it's estimated to be a 40 percent grade up, Doug Vinson of DCR built switchbacks to make hiking easier and more enjoyable.

The crew will also create an optional extension for the loop this fall.

Lott hopes to soon offer guided hikes for smaller groups.

Katie Thisdell: 540/735-1975
Email: kthisdell@freelancestar.com

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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