Hoffler Creek has big spring plans

Published 7:24 pm Friday, May 5, 2017

There’s a little piece of heaven tucked away in a remote corner of Greater Western Branch, where visitors can easily forget they’re within a few miles of the hustle and bustle of the world.

Hoffler Creek Wildlife Preserve is a 142-acre park nestled along Twin Pines Road, where visitors can find all sorts of opportunities to see wildlife, row across a brackish lake that was once a borrow pit for highway construction projects and even taste a few new treats.

After the Virginia Department of Transportation finished using the property for construction activities surrounding the building of the Western Freeway and I-664 in the early 1990s, the city of Portsmouth responded to the calls of area citizens to protect the property from development by purchasing the land and giving responsibility for its management to a group of citizens who formed the Hoffler Creek Wildlife Foundation.

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Since then, Hoffler Creek has been the largely undiscovered jewel of Western Branch, a place of wonderful surprises to those who find it.

With five named trails and a variety of viewing decks on and around Lake Ballard, as well as a scattering of bird blinds for viewing avian visitors, there is much for a visitor to enjoy at the preserve.

And springtime is surely the right time to visit.

The preserve’s annual Spring Foraging Tour, set for 1 to 3 p.m. April 23, will give visitors a chance to taste all the edibles the park has to offer. Think greens, and you’ll get the gist of it.
Local naturalist, survival expert and author Vickie Shufer leads the tour, and participants — the group is limited to 25 — will collect dandelions, chickweed and other edibles on their way to making a Spring Greens salad.

The cost is $10 per person for members and $18 apiece for non-members.

Sunset paddles on Lake Ballard are a popular way to enjoy the park, and two are scheduled during the next couple of months, from 6:15 to 8:15 p.m. May 6 and from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. June 9.

The guided kayak tours wrap up with sunset viewed from the James River, over the Monitor-Merrimac Memorial Bridge-Tunnel.

Advance registration is required, and the cost is $20 for members and $35 for non-members.

There’s something special about being on the water at night, and the preserve offers opportunities to do just that, including a moonlight paddle from 8:30 to 10:30 p.m. May 6. After time on the water, the group will return to headquarters for s’mores by the fire.

Advance registration is required, and the cost is $25 for members and $40 for non-members.

If you’re more of a morning person, the preserve has you covered, too.

An early bird walk is planned from 8 to 10 a.m. May 13, before the facility is open to the public. The gates are closed at 8:10 a.m., so arrive early.

Local birding experts will lead the group and help identify the birds they see and hear.

The walk is free, but donations are encouraged to help fund the preserve’s programs.

For more information about Hoffler Creek Wildlife Preserve, visit www.hofflercreek.org or call 686-8684.