Delicate habitats are to be treasured, not trampled on, and only 21 Virginia Natural Area Preserves offer public access. Tread lightly, leave nothing, and take only photos as memories.
This, the second of a four-part series (see part one), suggests ways to experience four publicly accessible Natural Area Preserves from Virginia Beach in Coastal Virginia to Port Haywood on the Middle Peninsula. See the orange pins on the map below.
Permitted activities while visiting these preserves are hiking, canoeing, kayaking, photography, and wildlife watching. Camping, fires, horses, bikes, ATVs and any other vehicles are prohibited. Pets must be leashed at all times.
3,441 acres. Virginia Beach. Virginia’s first and largest Natural Area Preserve comprised of tidal marshes, cypress swamps, pocosins, and Atlantic white cedar forests.
For You: A half-mile trail with elevated boardwalks leads through swamp forest while a canoe launch gives access to the water trail.
Watch For: Butterflies, a huge variety of reptiles and amphibians, and Atlantic white cedar.
Note from the Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation: This Preserve, closed for the last decade due to illegal activities and DCR’s lack of funding to support site management staff, is scheduled for re-opening during fall of 2015. (more)
As you move along the route (see map below) to the next preserve, you may be seeking something to eat or a place to stay. If so, here are a few suggestions:
- Kelly’s Tavern, Chesapeake
- Big Woody’s Bar & Grill, Chesapeake
- Hilton Garden Inn Suffolk Riverfront, Suffolk
Hilton Garden Inn Suffolk Riverfront
— CHUB SANDHILL —
1,066 acres. On the Nottoway River in Sussex County. Coastal plain habitat, including cypress swamps and sandy uplands.
For You: A little more than one mile of walking trails and several miles of sand roads highlight the restored native longleaf pine and scrub oak areas. (guide)
Watch For: Rare golden puccoon, prothonotary warblers, damselflies, wood ducks, flycatchers, and rare dwarf waterdog salamander.
When you’re ready to continue on, here are places to stay and eat along the route (or not too far off of it). Note, this route features the Jamestown-Scotland Ferry:
- Edwards Virginia Ham Shoppe & Deli, Surry
- Cul’s Courthouse Grille, Charles City
- Virginia Diner, Wakefield
- Rose & Crown Restaurant, New Kent
— CUMBERLAND MARSH —
1,193 acres. On the Pamunkey River in New Kent County. The world’s largest population of the rare plant sensitive joint-vetch can be found here.
For You: Easy to moderate, 1.5 miles of trails run along a tidal creek and through upland forests. A wheelchair accessible boardwalk and tidal freshwater march observation deck allow all to experience Cumberland Marsh.
Watch For: Bald eagles and other species, including migratory songbirds and waterfowl.
Note: Cumberland Marsh is owned and managed by The Nature Conservancy in partnership with the Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation. Visitation is limited to Saturdays and Sunday, dawn to dusk. Woodland trails are closed November through January.
Continuing east to the Middle Peninsula and to the final preserve, these places to eat and sleep are along the route:
- The Farmer’s Daughter, West Point
- Southwind Pizza, Mathews
- The White Dog Bistro, Mathews
- The Inn at Tabbs Creek, Port Haywood
The Inn at Tabbs Creek
105 acres. This preserve along the Chesapeake Bay is home to the federally threatened northeastern beach tiger beetle.
For You: The beach! Tread lightly here by following these rules: no digging in the sand (by children, dogs, etc.), and “leave no trace” practices are a priority.
Watch For: More than 185 species of birds have been seen at Bethel Beach, as well as the northeaster beach tiger beetle.
Note: This preserve is open sunrise to sunset, but portions may be closed during nesting season.
Bethel Beach Natural Area Preserve
105 acres. On the Chesapeake Bay and a primary stopover point on the Atlantic Flyway.
For You: A wheelchair accessible boardwalk and observation deck offer a view of the salt marsh and the historic New Point Comfort Lighthouse.
Watch For: Fiddler crabs, migratory new-tropical songbirds, waterfowl, and the seaside dragonlet, Virginia’s only saltwater dragonfly.
Note: New Point Comforat is owned and managed by The Nature Conservancy in partnership with the Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation.