The following article was written by Eastern Shore of Virginia Certified Master Naturalist, Barbara O’Hare.
Warm, springtime weather draws many of us outside to enjoy the emerging greenery and to see birds, butterflies and Mother Nature stretching after the long winter. There are many places to enjoy the beautiful outdoors here on the Eastern Shore. It may be in your own backyard or in one of the many public open spaces. Natural Area Preserves (NAPs), such as Savage Neck Dunes, can be enjoyed by the public. Yet, these undeveloped areas serve a particular purpose in Virginia. Natural Area Preserves are not quite the same as a park, such as Kiptopeke State Park, where facilities are available such as restrooms and trash receptacles.
Natural Area Preserves were established to protect the best examples of Virginia’s natural communities and habitats for our rarest and common species of plants and animals. Recreation is a secondary objective (www.dcr.virginia.gov/natural-heritage). For anyone who has visited a Natural Area Preserve (NAP), they likely appreciated the undeveloped landscape that is native to the Eastern Shore.
There are four NAPs on the shore that are open to the public. Mutton Hunk NAP is located on the seaside of Accomack County, with two walking trails that overlook Gargathy Bay and White’s Creek. Savage Neck Dunes NAP, located near Eastville, has trails that meander through diverse coastal natural communities, including Chesapeake Bay beach, maritime grasslands, a rare maritime dune woodland, maritime forest, and natural freshwater pond. Cape Charles NAP is located on the south side of the town harbor. There is a boardwalk over a pond and a boardwalk through a wooded area, ending at a bluff overlooking the Chesapeake Bay. The protected beach is not open to the public, but you get great views of the bay. This is one of the few stretches of bay beach on Virginia’s Eastern Shore that is to remain undisturbed, in its natural state. Magothy Bay NAP is located near the southern tip of the Eastern Shore, where a trail that goes through songbird habitat, into a coastal pine forest and out to a dike overlooking the tidal salt marsh along Magothy Bay.
Visitors are welcome at the Natural Area Preserves. Just remember to respect the rules posted on the kiosk at the park entrance. Park only in designated areas. You will notice that parking areas are small- usually fewer than 20 spaces. This is intentional to prevent too many visitors simultaneously, which disturbs wildlife and impacts the visitor experience.
Keep pets leashed. Clean up trash and waste and dispose of it off the premises. Don’t dispose of any waste, human or pet, in the water. Leave the preserve cleaner than you found it. Volunteers from the Eastern Shore Chapter of Virginia Master Naturalists work with the Department of Conservation and Recreation, Natural Heritage Program. Each week, volunteer stewards make sure the trails are in good condition. If you visit, please do your part in helping to preserve these unique natural habitats we treasure here on the Eastern Shore.