2001 Brings Growth to Rappahannock NWR (VA)

Warsaw, VA, 12/21/01: Most six-year-olds have somewhat predictable wish lists this time of year—games and toys, maybe a bicycle. But the six-year-old Rappahannock River Valley National Wildlife Refuge dared to dream a little bigger and its wishes for this year have been granted.

In 2001, 834 acres of land were added to the refuge, bringing it up to 4,842 protected acres. A promise of $2 million in additional federal funding for next year was the ribbon on the package, neatly tied by the Virginia congressional delegation, including Senators John Warner and George Allen, and Representative Jo Ann Davis.

Two separate deals were put together by the Trust for Public Land, a national nonprofit land conservation organization that has helped protect nearly ninety percent of the refuge to date, including the 1,100-acre Tayloe tract transferred in 1996 as the cornerstone of the refuge. Along Mount Landing Creek near Tappahannock, 727 acres were protected, putting into public hands nearly 700 feet of waterfront and a mixture of open fields, marshland and forests and fronting on US Route 17. Just outside of Warsaw, a 107-acre property that includes a mixture of forest and fields was also protected.

“Conservation of lands like these benefits all of the communities in the area by protecting the natural resources of the Rappahannock, one of the key reasons people live here,” said Debi Osborne, director of the Chesapeake Field Office for the Trust for Public Land. “By partnering with us, landowners ensure responsible management of their land through future generations and residents and visitors share in the enjoyment of the resource.”

At a number of the properties within the refuge, work has been done to restore native habitat such as wetlands, grasslands and forests in partnership with other groups including The Nature Conservancy, Virginia Outdoors Foundation and the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, which have also been working to protect additional land. This year, 170 newly protected acres were planted with hardwood trees to restore an original forest and provide habitat for nesting migratory birds. Additionally, 200 acres at the Mount Landing Creek site were returned to native warm season grasses, which have drawn over 50 species of birds. This work was made possible through the Fish and Wildlife Service’s Partners for Fish and Wildlife Program. Additional restoration efforts have also been made by Ducks Unlimited.

According to Refuge Manager Joe McCauley, the site at Mount Landing Creek is perfect for school trips as it can easily serve as an outdoor classroom offering opportunities for insect sampling, tree identification, bird watching and water quality testing. “This site is within three miles of all three Essex County schools. Working such experiential learning into existing curricula can help teachers meet Virginia standards of learning,” said McCauley.

“We’re looking forward to providing additional opportunities for visitors to enjoy these natural landscapes and to observe the many plants, animals and birds that call the Rappahannock River Valley their home,” he said.

The primary site for visitors is the current location of the refuge offices—the former Wilna farm located off Sandy Lane near Warsaw, VA. Work is underway to establish fully accessible trails within the 990-acre property. The refuge also has three sites that will be listed as part of the Virginia Birding and Wildlife Trail, a network of observation sites throughout the commonwealth currently being put together by the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries.

With federal authorization to purchase a total of 20,000 acres within the approved boundary along 50 miles of the Rappahannock River, work on the refuge is far from complete and in that respect, the wish list is still very real. The Trust for Public Land and other groups continue to work with area landowners interested in selling their property to add land to the refuge. For that reason, continued funding is key. To date, funds have primarily come from the Land and Water Conservation Fund, with additional support from the Migratory Bird Conservation Fund and the North American Wetlands Conservation Fund.

“The effort to continue the purchase of critical habitat for the Rappahannock River Valley National Wildlife Refuge from willing sellers has been nothing more, and nothing less, than a team effort. Our conservation efforts here are an important part of a joint commitment to protect and preserve the pristine character of the Rappahannock. We have more to accomplish next year and I applaud the local governments and private groups, such as the Trust for Public Land, for their leadership,” said Senator John Warner.

Senator George Allen said, “Virginia has a great wealth of beautiful natural resources, including the Rappahannock River Valley National Wildlife Refuge. This funding will help safeguard our natural resources not only for ourselves, but also for future generations.”

Representative Jo Ann Davis commented, “This funding will go toward continued efforts to preserve and protect Virginia’s natural habitat. Current efforts to preserve and protect Virginia’s natural habitat must continue, and by preserving properties along the Rappahannock River, we will help insure natural habitat preservation remains a priority.”

“We are grateful for the continued support for this refuge, which affects not only local residents, but the region as a whole,” said the TPL’s Osborne. “The protection of land along the Rappahannock River brings us one step closer to meeting the goal of protecting the Chesapeake Bay Watershed.”

Keeping Our Commitment: Preserving Land in the Chesapeake Watershed, a historic report by TPL and the Chesapeake Bay Commission, documents the need to protect 1.1 million acres of the watershed by 2010 in order to meet the goal set out in the Chesapeake 2000 Agreement signed by the Environmental Protection Agency, Virginia, Maryland, Pennsylvania, and the District of Columbia in June 2000.

The Trust for Public Land specializes in conservation real estate, applying its expertise in negotiation, public finance, and law to protect land for people. TPL conserves land for people to improve the quality of life in communities and to protect natural and historic resources for future generations. TPL has protected more than 1.3 million acres of land nationwide, including more than 12,000 acres in Virginia.