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Suffolk needs Blackwater River access

By Biff and Susan Andrews

In a few days, the Suffolk City Council will have the opportunity to do something really smart and forward-thinking by using two state grants of $400,000 each to create, in coordination with the Department of Conservation and Recreation, a 338-acre waterfront access to the Blackwater River.

About 200 acres would join the South Quay Nature Preserve, a 3,753-acre natural area dedicated to preserving the last stand of longleaf pines in Virginia. A new water access park of 138 acres would be created for Suffolk citizens.

Currently Suffolk has no access to the Blackwater, which runs from Hopewell to the Nottoway River in North Carolina — over 100 miles of waterway. Isle of Wight has several, as does Southampton County.

What a wonderful opportunity for Suffolk! For the rest of time, our children and grandchildren, and future generations can paddle through an ecologically rich river environment including heron rookeries, rare plants, fossilized sharks’ teeth, rare insects, reptiles and mammals. What a gift to future generations! Our granddaughter has already spent a day at South Quay collecting longleaf pine cones for seed to expand the existing stand of trees.

The land to be purchased is a family farm of 338 acres. The Suffolk park would connect to South Quay Natural Preserve (with the possibility of future nature trails) and would feature a parking area, restrooms, picnic area, boardwalk to a paddle launch, and trails along the river connecting fishing areas. Currently the southwest corner of Suffolk has few if any dedicated recreational facilities. Other parts of the city have recreation centers, motorboat launches, major play parks and more. This part of the city deserves some investment. This land won’t be available forever, and neither will the money designated for this purpose.

There are also historical considerations. Not only is it important to preserve the rare flora and fauna for study for future generations, but this waterway was once an essential avenue of escape for slaves. As with Suffolk’s relationship in the historical importance of the underground railroad and the maroons within the Great Dismal Swamp, historic research and preservation needs to be done.

Of course there are some naysayers, mainly in Isle of Wight and Southampton counties who don’t want Suffolk residents on “their” river. Naysayers from outside the city of Suffolk should have no impact on Suffolk city business.

So, join with us in urging Suffolk City Council to use these state grants and enthusiastically support this important project. Send comments or suggestions by May 15 to www.suffolkva.us/1405/Blackwater-River-Park-Project.

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 b.andrews22@live.com.