Since its creation in 2009, Crow’s Nest Natural Area Preserve has been envisioned as a pristine spot where visitors could hike, commune with nature and launch a canoe or kayak.

Though the preserve is still closed to the public, that could change—on a limited scale—sometime next year.

The Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation, which purchased the 2,872-acre property with Stafford County, is seeking a state permit to install a boardwalk, three observation decks, and a floating dock with a canoe launch along Accokeek creek.

Those would be built near the intersection of Sentinel Road Lane and Brooke Road.

“Our current hope is for bids in February, and construction later in 2014. Hopefully, we’ll finally get it open” by the end of next year, Mike Lott, northern region steward with DCR’s Division of Natural Heritage, said on Friday.

The boardwalk, he said, would extend about 330 feet through wetlands to the creek. It would include the observation decks, and a floating platform at the end, for paddlers to launch.

The Virginia Marine Resources Commission is reviewing the application, according to a legal ad in Friday’s Free Lance–Star. A public comment period runs through early January.

A grant, along with state and federal funds, will cover the cost of the project, Lott said.

Last year, DCR used a grant to build a 20-space parking lot off Brooke Road. Funding is still needed to upgrade a road from the entrance gate to that interior parking lot.

Also, Lott and volunteers have been building and refurbishing trails crisscrossing the tract, which sits between Potomac and Accokeek creeks.

About two miles of trails have been completed; some 12 miles are planned.

“We’re working on the infrastructure … so that when we do get the money [to open] it will be ready,” Lott said.

As the preserve manager, Lott oversees Crow’s Nest’s natural resources. A second position was added over the summer. Geoff Austin was named operations steward.

Lott says the preserve recently started a volunteer stewardship committee, “like a friends group, to assist us with trails, maintenance, picking up trash” and eliminating invasive plants, such as garlic mustard.

To date, public access to the preserve has been limited to occasional open house tours, and more recently, hunting.

Duck and goose hunters, selected by lottery, were allowed in last fall.

Crow’s Nest is one of two large, preserved tracts along the Potomac River in Stafford still awaiting public access.

Widewater State Park, on Potomac River and Aquia Creek, is in the planning stages.

The first phase of development there calls for a day-use area overlooking the Potomac, with parking, restrooms, a playground, picnic shelters, fishing pier and structures for bank fishing, canoe launch, landing and campsites, trails and a boat launch.

DCR officials said during a public meeting here in September that money is available for the Phase One improvements, but the amount that will be needed has not yet been determined.

Leesylvania State Park staff in Prince William County is overseeing the property for now.

The state acquired the 1,100-acre Widewater tract in 2006 from the Trust for Pubic Land.

Rusty Dennen: 540/374-5431


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