A 97-acre property on the Severn River in Gloucester is one step closer to becoming a destination for fishing and nature viewing, thanks to completion of an open-space easement by the Virginia Outdoors Foundation (VOF) and the Middle Peninsula Chesapeake Bay Public Access Authority (MPCBPAA).
The property, known as Captain Sinclair Recreation Area, was donated by the previous landowner to the MPCBPAA in 2014. Established in 2003 by the Virginia General Assembly, the MPCBPAA identifies and secures sites for public use, determines appropriate levels of use for each site, and implements corresponding management plans.
Captain Sinclair Recreation Area is identified as a high-priority conservation area in the Commonwealth’s new ConserveVirginia initiative, which identifies high value lands and conservation sites across Virginia. The initiative was unveiled in April by Governor Ralph Northam.
“Identifying and helping to conserve high value, multi-benefit conservation projects like the Captain Sinclair Recreation Area is why I directed my administration to create ConserveVirginia,” Governor Northam said. “ConserveVirginia shows Virginians the specific benefits—in this case coastal resilience, recreation, cultural and historic—that they will derive from taxpayer investment. I am pleased to see our land conservation groups and local governments engaging ConserveVirgina to ensure the greatest conservation outcomes for the Commonwealth.”
The MPCBPAA is receiving a $180,000 grant from VOF, which will hold an easement in perpetuity on the 40 acres most suited for public use, which includes the waterfront, existing structures, mixed hardwood and pine forest, and wetlands. The easement ensures the property can only be developed for recreational, educational, and research purposes consistent with MPCBPAA’s mission.
The funding is vital to the authority, which has received about two dozen gifts of land but no state-allocated revenue stream to support the development of these parcels for public access. “We are land-rich and cash-poor,” said MPCBPAA Secretary Lewie Lawrence. “We don’t want to sell any of the property we’ve been gifted; we want to see it all in public use. But we need to provide the infrastructure to make these places accessible. That means thinking of creative ways to generate revenue. When my board understood the opportunity that an open-space easement presents, we knew this was the solution for the Captain Sinclair property.”
The MPCBPAA will use the funding to begin implementing improvements based on recommendations by Virginia Sea Grant, located at the Virginia Institute of Marine Science, along with input and support from the Middle Peninsula Planning District Commission, the Middle Peninsula Public Access Authority Board, Gloucester County, and the citizens of Gloucester.
In the short term, the MPCBPAA plans to use the money to replace the dock, add lighting and public signage, and grade and gravel interior roads, driveways, and a parking area on the property. These improvements will make the shoreline portion of the property available for fishing and waterfront educational programs, such as guided oyster gardening and demonstrations of living shoreline restoration projects.
Middle-term improvements include construction of an elevated boardwalk, as well as biking and walking trails on the drylands, marshlands and forest on the western portion of the property. Users of the trail will be able to reach two observation decks that look across the wetlands to the Severn River. Educational signage along the trails will describe the wetlands, forests, plant species and common wildlife in the immediate area. Bird-watching along the trails should be exceptional.
Eventually the MPCBPAA envisions restoring the estate house for use as an event facility and converting the pool house into a bait shop and kayak rental facility, both generating revenue for the continued upkeep of the site.
“We are thrilled to be able to support the development of this site as a destination for recreation and education in Gloucester,” said VOF’s Estie Thomas, who helped to craft the easement. “It’s a perfect example of how private philanthropy can leverage public support to achieve great results for citizens.”
About the Middle Peninsula Chesapeake Bay Public Access Authority
Recognizing that shorelines are high priority natural areas critical for all types of recreational activities important to our economy and to the citizens of the Commonwealth of Virginia, the Virginia General Assembly created the Middle Peninsula Chesapeake Bay Public Access Authority in 2002. Since then, member localities including the counties of Essex, Gloucester, King & Queen, King William, Mathews and Middlesex and the Towns of Tappahannock, Urbanna, and West Point, have worked together to promote public accessibility of waterfront property. The MP-PAA also has a public water access and recreational land online reservation system for reserving hunting tracts, nature trails, public shoreline fishing, waterfowl hunting, crabbing, boat slips, and many other public outdoor recreational opportunities on the Middle Peninsula. For more information visit virginiacoastalaccess.net/MPPAA.html.
About the Virginia Outdoors Foundation
The Virginia Outdoors Foundation was created by the Virginia General Assembly in 1966 to promote the preservation of open-space lands and to encourage private gifts of money, securities, land or other property to preserve the natural, scenic, historic, scientific, open-space and recreational areas of the Commonwealth. VOF protects nearly 850,000 acres in 109 counties and cities. Learn more at virginiaoutdoorsfoundation.org.