Open Blackwater to public, most say

Published 5:51 pm Tuesday, July 17, 2018

By Diana McFarland

Managing editor

Open the Blackwater property to the public was the overwhelming response received from respondents to an informal Facebook survey conducted by The Smithfield Times.

The survey provided three possible responses — open the property for public use, continue to allow local hunt clubs exclusive access or any other ideas or concerns. 

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The survey had 128 responses as of Monday morning and the majority of comments were in favor of public use. About 90 responses were plainly expressed — open it to the public. 

Other ideas included a lottery hunting system or a quota system.  {mprestriction ids=”1,2,3,4,5,6″}

The roughly 2,500 acres are owned by Isle of Wight County. 

Local hunt clubs have held leases to the property, but those have expired, leading the Isle of Wight Board of Supervisors to consider other options.

The Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries has offered to manage the property for hunting and other recreational uses. 

The management would be similar to the Big Woods Wildlife Management Area in Sussex County. 

The issue is on the agenda for Thursday’s Board of Supervisors’ meeting, which begins at 6 p.m. at the Isle of Wight County courthouse complex.

If the state took over the management of the property, those who wanted to hunt would pay an $18 seasonal fee. The state would create three parking areas with kiosks, with future improvements to include trails and canoe/kayak launches.

Isle of Wight County purchased the 2,509-acre Blackwater property in 2010 for $3 million, with $1.5 million of that funded through grants. The Virginia Department of Forestry and the Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation were also involved in assisting with the negotiations.

The purchase was part of a deal between the county and the Nature Conservancy to preserve ecologically sensitive land running about 5.5 miles from Broadwater to Proctor’s Bridge Roads in northwestern Isle of Wight County. It was also purchased to protect significant drinking water resources. 

However, part of the deed agreement also allowed the previous owner, Goodwood Virginia LLC, to restrict public access to certain areas for the next four decades, or until it finishes cutting timber, if it considers the restrictions necessary. 

In 2011, the county began developing a master plan for the property that included hiking and equestrian trails. So far, no development has occurred.  {/mprestriction}