Blackwater public use plan nixed

Published 6:30 pm Tuesday, July 24, 2018

By Diana McFarland

Managing editor

The Isle of Wight Board of Supervisors unanimously rejected the state’s offer Thursday to manage its Blackwater property and will instead establish a task force to study options for its use.

Windsor District Supervisor Joel Acree was not present at the Board meeting. 

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In the meantime, a public hearing will be scheduled to allow qualifying hunt clubs to vie for use of the property for the upcoming hunting season. 

Currently, two local hunt clubs meet the previously set criteria — at least 51 percent of membership being Isle of Wight residents — but county attorney Mark Popovich said there is at least a third hunt club located in the county that meets that membership requirement. 

Smithfield Supervisor Dick Grice suggested the formation of a task force that would include a variety of interested parties. The plan is for the task force to present its recommendation to the Board by the end of March of next year. {mprestriction ids=”1,2,3,4,5,6″}

While Newport District Supervisor William McCarty was against allowing the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries to manage the property due to safety concerns, Carrsville District Supervisor Don Rosie pointed out that property was acquired for public recreation and resisted the fear mongering that one hunt club member was fomenting during citizens comments. 

Rosie said Boy Scout leaders were excited about the possibility of using the Blackwater for primitive camping. 

“I don’t play to the fear idea,” he said, adding, “It’s a great opportunity for our citizens. We have 36,000 citizens who paid for this property.” 

Fred Mitchell added to his list of dangers lurking behind the public use of the property, such as campers starting “wildland fires” with their camp stoves. 

“It rests on your conscience,” he said.

At a previous meeting, Mitchell warned of several possible calamities, including lost, inexperienced individuals encountering bears, snakes, bugs and worse. 

Board Chairman Rudolph Jefferson said that if safety is such an issue, maybe the county should vacate the property altogether. Jefferson said the property should be open to all residents. 

Curt Lytle described how the city of Norfolk manages its three lakes in Isle of Wight County, charging county residents less than others and pulling permits for those who misbehave. Lytle suggested that Isle of Wight look into how that works. 

DGIF had offered to manage the roughly 2,500-acre Blackwater property similar to what it does with Big Woods Wildlife Management Area in Sussex County. That would have included parking areas, kiosks and possibly further development to facilitate canoeing and kayaking. 

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.  {/mprestriction}