Living River Trust donates 500 acres to Great Dismal Swamp


CHESAPEAKE, Va. (WAVY) — A regional conservation group is celebrating the 50th anniversary of Earth Day by donating 500 acres of land.

The Living River Trust says its the only land conservation group in Hampton Roads and they’ve donated the land to the Great Dismal Swamp Wildlife Refuge.

“The Great Dismal Swamp is actually greatly misnamed. It’s not so much a place where water collects, like a typical swamp, but it’s a high point where water drains out from it. It serves as the source of fresh water to local rivers and groundwater. It’s important to preserve that part of our region to enhance water quality and provide clean drinking water for our communities,” said John Harbin, who is an administrator for the Living River Trust.

Harbin, who says the organization is passionate about conservation, says the land was once planned to be developed into an industrial park and they were able to obtain the land through a settlement with the Atlantic Coast Pipeline.

“The pipeline is impacting 12 acres of land on the easement that we hold and we were able to conserve almost 500 acres. We were making the best out of a not ideal situation,” he said.

The land is located in Chesapeake near the I-64 and I-664 interchange in the historic Sunray district.

According to a news release from the organization, the land serves as the headwaters of Deep Creek and it’s important for the prolonged effort to maintain and improve the water quality of the Elizabeth River, which it flows into.

The land also contains ancient, native forest trees including maple black gum, tupelo bald cypress, sweet gum oak, American white cedar, as well as black bears, bobcats, barred owls and pileated woodpeckers.

Chris Lowie, who is the refuge manager, says they’re excited about the donation and have eyed the property for 10 years.

“Acquisition will assist in protecting the large, contiguous block of forest that provides important habitat for migratory and resident wildlife. It also provides additional access to refuge lands for managing our trust resources,” Lowie said. “We are extremely grateful to the Living River Trust for the donation to protect this land in perpetuity for the benefit of wildlife and people.”

While the land is currently closed to the public, Lowie says it could be opened in the future to hiking and hunting based on public input.

Harbin says their organization is hoping to expand its mission in the future to continue to preserve open spaces for wildlife, recreation, agriculture, and more.

“Land is so important. Land anchors life, so to speak. We want to provide those benefits of having open space to the community. Whether it’s a park that’s a couple of blocks away where you can walk your dog, or this 500 acres of land you may not go to every day, but it’s important from a wildlife and water quality perspective. It means something different to everyone but it’s an important component to our quality of life in this region to have those open spaces,” he said.

The Living River Trust says it is always working to help residents conserve land.

If you are interested or would like to volunteer, click here.

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