Suffolk ‘can do better’ on waterfront

Published 6:22 pm Tuesday, February 24, 2015

By Biff and Susan Andrews

Isle of Wight County encompasses the Pagan River, a 12.5-mile tributary of the mighty James. It is a lovely, meandering, marsh-lined waterway, with stately homes dotting its shoreline.

Aside from downtown Smithfield, there is no commercial development save Wishie’s crab shack and some marinas at the mouth of the Pagan. Capt. Chuckamuck’s at the mouth of Jones Creek provides a lovely water-access restaurant with marsh view. Jones Creek is also the site of Isle of Wight’s lone saltwater public ramp.

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The city of Suffolk encompasses the Nansemond River, a 19.8-mile tributary of the mighty James. Again, the marshes lining it are magical, beneficial to all of God’s creatures — filled with birds, fish, crabs and mammals.

Suffolk, too, has only one saltwater public-access ramp, located at Bennett’s Creek Park, with a small water-access restaurant on the creekfront. On the 19.8-mile Nansemond itself, there is not a single commercial enterprise other than the Hilton Garden Inn at its headwaters.

Fishermen, crabbers, canoers, kayakers and sailors must go elsewhere. In two communities with tens of thousands of residents, there is just one access point each. You’d think they could do better. How about adding some access near the centers of population?

In Smithfield, the dead-end road across the bridge from the Smithfield Station would be ideal for both launching and parking. They could have put a ramp in next to the kayak launch in Windsor Castle Park, but no.

In Suffolk, the vacant lot across from the Hilton Garden Inn or the vacant former Obici Hospital property would be perfect.

Planter’s Peanuts, Lipton Tea and QVC should do for Suffolk what Mr. Luter and Smithfield Foods did for Smithfield — provide a park, green space, a riverwalk, fishing/crabbing access and more. Amedeo Obici gave that land to the people of Suffolk — beautifully landscaped by Virginia’s foremost landscape architect — and Suffolk is about to ruin it with common apartments.

Consider the waterfronts of such diverse cities as Austin, Texas, Wilmington, N.C., Savannah, Ga., and San Francisco. All of them have restaurants, brewpubs, shops, green space and access to the water.

Smithfield and Suffolk are where they are because they are on high land with river access for shipping purposes. At least Smithfield has fishing and crabbing access at Clontz Park and Windsor Castle — Suffolk has none anywhere downtown.

Smithfield town fathers are considering a million-dollar improvement to the Isle of Wight public access to the Blackwater River Park. Go for it! It’s Isle of Wight’s only freshwater access.

Suffolk gave away its ownership of the Suffolk lakes and the water in them for a little cash decades ago. If you want to use Lake Meade or Lake Prince, you have to pay the city of Portsmouth or Norfolk. Now Suffolk officials are about to give away their saltwater access for some developer’s petty cash.

Thank God for Lone Star Lakes.

It is the duty of any local government to spend its tax revenues to benefit its constituents, not to benefit some developer. John and Jane Doe may not go boating or fishing, but their cousins, kids, and neighbors might do so.

What our citizens need in both communities is more outdoor recreational opportunities and less low-rent commercial development. Smithfield and Suffolk, we can do better!

Susan and Bradford “Biff” Andrews are retired teachers and master naturalists who have been outdoor people all their lives, exploring and enjoying the woods, swamps, rivers and beaches throughout the region for many years. Email them at