Great Dismal Swamp trailhead project takes off 

Published 8:11 pm Friday, May 6, 2022

Fifteen years after the original plan, the Great Dismal Swamp trailhead project is underway.

The project, led by Chris Lowie, aims to make the Great Dismal Swamp more visible and accessible for everyone, whether they’re frequent visitors or new to the swamp.

The project was first written into the Great Dismal Swamp Refuge’s comprehensive plan in 2006 in hopes of expanding environmental education. However, the project just recently started making progress when the Friends of the Great Dismal Swamp Wildlife Refuge received a $50,000 grant from Dominion Energy. The grant was used to purchase the land and materials necessary for the enhancement.

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The Virginia division of the Izaak Walton League of America, which focuses on hands-on conservation, also donated $5,000 to the project.

The estimated cost of the project is about $1.3 million, mostly related to a planned visitor/educational center. The team is looking to future grants and federal money to provide additional funding.

“We’re just working all angles and hoping the funding will come through,” Lowie said.

The project will make the Jericho Trail more accessible by adding signage and moving the trailhead closer to White Marsh Road. To go along with moving the trailhead, the project will also include a new parking lot, pavilion and the visitor/educational center so that everything will be together in one spot.

“We have five trailheads where people can go to enjoy the refuge, but it’s not a one-stop shop,” said Lowie, the project manager, “so want people to be able to come to one place, get the information they need and then go and enjoy the refuge without having to drive to several different places.”

Another focus of the project is to highlight and preserve the history of the swamp, which is believed to have been a trading center for Native Americans as well as a route and destination for freedom-seeking enslaved people.

Adjacent to the new trailhead, the City of Suffolk will purchase a piece of land to create a city park. The city received a $200,000 grant from the Virginia Outdoors Foundation that will be used to both purchase the land and build the park — including a playground and picnic area.

“This park will really serve two purposes,” said Mark Furlo, director of parks and recreation. “For starters, when children go visit the education center that they are building at the Great Dismal Swamp, they can come to play on the playground or eat their lunch at the picnic shelter. In addition to that, there’s just a deficiency of parks in that area, so it’ll be great for local families.”

This will make the area a multiuse facility, including the trail network, the park and eventually the visitor and educational center.

“Overall, we hope to enhance our Jericho Lane trailhead to make it more visible and accessible to all users and residents of Suffolk, not just to our more traditional users that like to be out in the woods,” said Lowie.

The team is hopeful that the project will wrap up in 2024 or 2025.