(Delmarva Now) -- Two Eastern Shore of Virginia land conservation projects are among 23 in the state to receive a total of $4.23 million in grants from the Virginia Land Conservation Foundation.
Gov. Terry McAuliffe announced the awards Tuesday.
“The projects these grants will fund protect biodiversity, working farms, forest lands, green space and historic resources, while enhancing public access to these valuable lands,” said McAuliffe, adding, “Protecting Virginia’s natural assets is an important part of building a healthy economy, and these grants will help advance that important work in every corner of the Commonwealth.”
The foundation awarded $321,000 for the Catharine M. Grey Preserve in Accomack County.
The money will help The Nature Conservancy Virginia Chapter, the requesting agency, to purchase a 127-acre property near the mouth of Onancock Creek to create a nature preserve.
The land is adjacent to Parker’s Marsh Natural Area Preserve.
It will be open year-round for fishing, environmental education and nature study, kayaking and hiking, according to a press release.
Additionally, hunting will be allowed.
The property is on the Captain John Smith Chesapeake National Historic Trail and the Onancock Water Trail.
Help for migratory birds
In Northampton County, $398,400 was awarded to the Department of Conservation and Recreation to acquire two parcels totaling 161 acres for the Magothy Bay Natural Area Preserve for migratory bird habitat restoration enhancement.
The land is near the southern tip of the Delmarva Peninsula — an area that each autumn during migration supports one of the largest concentrations of land birds on the East Coast, according to the release.
Nearly 200 species, representing about 70 percent of all bird species in North America, pass through the area during fall migration.
Birds passing through use the peninsula's tip as a major stopover area before crossing the open water of the Chesapeake Bay and heading farther south.
Existing farm fields provide little benefit to the birds, so the Department of Conservation and Recreation's Natural Heritage Program and its partners restore the conserved land to native vegetation to provide the birds forage and cover from predators, according to the release.
The land's proximity to Kiptopeke State Park and other existing preserves "provides an excellent step toward forging landscape connectivity between the protected areas," the release said.
Key conservation projects
Jay Ford, a Virginia Land Conservation Foundation board member representing the Eastern Shore who also is the Virginia Eastern Shorekeeper, was happy about the announcement.
“We are very excited about the two conservation projects coming to the Eastern Shore," Ford said. "These are both beautiful, ecologically important tracts of land with immense conservation value.
"As studies demonstrated earlier this year, conserved lands are major drivers of our local economy, protecting our aquaculture industry and supporting tourism as well."
When grants became available this year, Ford spoke with local nonprofits and governmental organizations about the need for a mid-Shore location for public access to "our one-of-a-kind nature," he said, adding, "We were thrilled that The Nature Conservancy stepped up with such a fantastic proposal in the ‘Catharine M. Grey Preserve’ outside of Onancock."
Additionally, Ford said the Magothy Bay site in Northampton County "will provide critical habitat to migratory birds that visit the shore annually and will help bolster the region's growing reputation as a premiere bird watching tourist destination.
"On the Eastern Shore conservation is economic development that just so happens to protect our waters and quality of life. I think we can all agree that is a great deal for Virginia,” he said.
The General Assembly and the governor established the Virginia Land Conservation Foundation in 1999 to help fund protection of the state's open spaces, farms, areas of cultural significance, parks and battlefields, and natural habitats.
Grants are awarded to help fund purchase of permanent conservation easements, open spaces and parklands, lands of historic or cultural significance, farmlands and forests, and natural areas.
The Virginia Land Conservation Foundation board is composed of 19 members appointed by the governor, the Senate Committee on Rules, and the speaker of the House of Delegates. The board includes the secretary of Natural Resources, who serves as chair, and the secretary of Agriculture and Forestry.
“This funding is crucial in continuing conservation goals throughout the commonwealth,” said Virginia Secretary of Natural Resources Molly Ward, who chairs the board.
“These funds will help protect Virginia’s special places and resources for generations,” she said.
Grant applications were reviewed by an interagency workgroup before being passed, with recommendations, to the foundation’s board. Administrative support is provided by the Virginia Department of Conservation.
“VLCF has selected a great mix of awardees, and I am proud that the Department of Conservation and Recreation can help with such impactful projects,” said DCR Director Clyde Cristman.