Expansion of Cape Charles Natural Area Preserve provides a boost for migratory bird habitat on Virginia’s Eastern Shore
The preserve reopened in November
RICHMOND — A land conservation project that nearly doubles the size of Cape Charles Natural Area Preserve is complete.
The Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation has acquired 20.7 acres adjacent to the existing preserve, which is located on the Chesapeake Bay side of Virginia’s Eastern Shore.
Established in 1997, the preserve protects shoreline, dune and maritime forest habitats, the species that depend on them — including migratory birds and the federally endangered northeastern beach tiger beetle — and three ConserveVirginia land conservation priorities.
The addition expands the preserve to 50 acres. About 20% of the acquisition funds came from the Virginia Land Conservation Foundation, and 80% from the Virginia Coastal Zone Management Program, led by the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality through a grant from NOAA.
“This project to nearly double the size of Cape Charles Natural Area Preserve would not have been possible without the critical support of Virginia’s Coastal Zone Management Program, the Virginia Land Conservation Foundation and DCR’s Natural Heritage Program,” Secretary of Natural Resources Matthew J. Strickler said. “Not only does the project support town efforts toward a network of walkable trails and public spaces, but it also permanently protects land identified by our cutting-edge ConserveVirginia model as a top-tier conservation priority.”
Governor Ralph Northam’s ConserveVirginia land conservation initiative identified the addition as a high conservation priority for Natural Habitat & Ecosystem Diversity, Flooding & Floodplain Resilience and Protected Landscapes Resilience.
“This project continues the efforts of numerous partners to address the loss of migratory songbird stopover habitat on Virginia’s Eastern Shore,” DCR Director Clyde E. Cristman said. “The conversion of habitat to residential and commercial development is a real threat to wildlife.”
DCR Natural Heritage Program Director Jason Bulluck said, “Land acquisition, permanent protection and habitat restoration are the best tools we have to ensure that high-quality habitat is available for these species.”
Staff with DCR’s Natural Heritage Program will continue to manage the preserve for the benefit of migratory birds and the other natural heritage resources it supports. This will include forest habitat management activities, such as control of non-native species that, over time, can decrease bird habitat values by changing forest structure and species assemblages.
“The Cape Charles Natural Area Preserve is part of an internationally important site for migratory birds,” Virginia CZM Director Laura McKay said. “Both DCR and CZM have had a long-standing interest in expanding the preserve to support both conservation and compatible recreational use. This addition includes non-tidal wetlands, which provide a source of freshwater for migratory birds and pollinators, and another boardwalk that were created through a previous CZM grant to Northampton County.”
The preserve reopened to the public in early November. A wheelchair-accessible boardwalk, also funded by the Virginia CZM Program, provides access through the maritime forest to a viewpoint of the Chesapeake Bay.
The preserve closed in late July because of repeated trespassing and unauthorized use that damaged the boardwalk, which has since been repaired. Visitors are reminded to follow all rules at the preserve and respect the natural environment.
“Cape Charles Natural Area Preserve has always been a favorite of local birdwatchers and nature enthusiasts,” DCR Eastern Shore Region Steward Dot Field said. “This coastal forest has long provided much needed resting and foraging habitat for migratory songbirds, as well as breeding habitat for resident birds. The additional forested acreage will help maintain the resilience of the natural communities the preserve protects.”
There is no public beach access at the preserve.
About the Virginia Natural Area Preserve System
Cape Charles Natural Area Preserve is part of the Virginia Natural Area Preserve System, established in 1989 to protect the state’s rare plants, animals and natural communities. The system is made up of 65 preserves covering 58,548 acres. DCR owns most of the preserves, but several are owned by The Nature Conservancy, other nonprofits, universities or private individuals. Staff with the Virginia Natural Heritage Program at DCR manage these lands primarily for rare species habitat and unique natural communities, but also to provide education, research and, at some preserves, low-impact recreational opportunities.
Limited funds are available to support the Virginia Natural Area Preserve System, and contributions from individuals can help greatly. Checks can be made to “Natural Area Preservation Fund” and mailed to: Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation, Natural Heritage Program, 600 E. Main St., 24th Floor, Richmond, VA 23219.