Splendor in the swamp

Published 9:31 pm Tuesday, December 1, 2015

The Great Dismal Swamp National Wildlife Refuge is probably one of the most-overlooked recreational resources in Suffolk. And that’s too bad, as the swamp offers many miles of groomed walking paths, a vast and calm lake for paddling canoes and kayaks, many opportunities to see an incredible variety of flora and fauna and a peacefulness unmatched anywhere else in Tidewater.

But a recent project by members of the Suffolk Partnership for a Healthy Community’s Healthy People Healthy Suffolk Citizen Engagement Workgroup and several Suffolk organizations could help make the swamp more accessible to the average person who would like to spend a few leisurely hours there from time to time.

The groups have been cooperating to build benches and stagger them along the 4.5-mile Washington Ditch, which starts near the park entrance and extends to Lake Drummond.

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“It has been exciting to see pieces of the Healthy People Healthy Suffolk plan come together,” Obici Healthcare Foundation Executive Director Gina Pitrone said recently. “These benches help make Suffolk a more walkable community, and improve the built environment at the refuge. It is another way we are making the healthy choice the easy choice by installing benches to allow walkers to take breaks along the way and to encourage all generations to walk together.”

With continuing financial support from the Obici Healthcare Foundation, Healthy People Healthy Suffolk has been working to get folks in Suffolk on their feet and walking for some time now. The swamp benches represent recognition of the fact that folks are more likely to take long walks if they have a place to stop and rest along the way.

The benches will also encourage folks to stop and take in their surroundings from time to time. In the Great Dismal Swamp, it would be a travesty to hurry along from Point A to Point B without taking time to notice the wonders of nature along the path.

“The Great Dismal Swamp is a striking, beautiful natural resource,” Pitrone said. “Our community partners believe this new built environment will increase trail utilization and allow hikers to leisurely bask in the park’s splendor.”

It might surprise most folks to hear the term “splendor” used to describe a swamp, but Pitrone’s description is an apt one. Perhaps the benches will help encourage folks to head to the refuge and see it for themselves.