The end to the public’s wait to enjoy a massive preserve in Stafford County is in sight.
The Commonwealth Transportation Board recently voted to provide $400,000 to upgrade the 1.6-mile access road to the Crow’s Nest Natural Area Preserve.
The upgrade, which will include adding a gravel surface, is key to allowing the public to use a parking lot and 12 miles of hiking trails within the 2,872-acre preserve in the southeastern part of the county.
In the six years since the preserve was created, public access to this main part of the preserve has been limited to a few open-house days each year, mainly because of the lack of funding to upgrade that road.
The request to upgrade the road had come before the General Assembly every year for the past several years, but the project wasn’t picked from the pool of candidates to fund.
But momentum for the project picked up earlier this year when Stafford officials announced that the project had the backing of the Virginia Department of Transportation and the Department of Conservation and Recreation at the local and state levels.
The Stafford Board of Supervisors then voted to apply for recreational access funds so that the Virginia Department of Transportation could perform the $400,000 work. The CTB unanimously voted to allocate the funds July 15.
“Crow’s Nest is one of Stafford’s hidden jewels, and we are excited to open it to the public so that more people can learn about its unique history and environment, and enjoy its recreational opportunities,” said County Administrator Anthony Romanello in an email.
VDOT spokesperson Kelly Hannon said that VDOT expects construction to start in late fall and the road to open sometime next year. DCR will be responsible for the road’s maintenance.
“We are getting close to the day when our residents can enjoy more of their investment,” Supervisor Paul Milde, who represents the Aquia District, said.
Hap Connors, who represents the Fredericksburg district on the CTB and made the motion to approve the funds, said it was hard for him to take credit. He said it was really a story of cooperation between government officials from Stafford, VDOT and DCR.
“It’s preserving a natural and historic resource that is important to the region and providing park and recreation amenities for residents and their tourists, all of which just add up to a great community and a little bit of economic development opportunity,” Connors said.
A small part of the preserve is already accessible.
An ADA-accessible canoe and kayak launch off Brooke Road opened in April and is fed by a half-mile hiking trail. The launch consists of a 360-foot pier and floating platform.
State and federal funds, as well as grant money, paid for the $615,000 trail, boat launch and parking lot.
The nature trail to the boat launch is on the edge of the preserve, located on the north shore of Accokeek Creek with two viewpoints of the tidal marsh.
The 2,872-acre lot was purchased in two phases in 2008 and 2009 for $34.1 million, according to the DCR. Stafford put up $9.5 million of that total cost.