Thursday, August 17, 2017  

Hughlett Point Natural Area Preserve
This area of the world is so special.  

This area of the world is so special. We have natural vistas ever changing with the seasons. Our love of these surroundings brought many of us here. There are countless hidden treasures and resources. It is always a delight to explore.

Hughlett Point is one of these wonderful resources. Located on Virginia’s Northern Neck, on the western shore of the Chesapeake Bay, it consists of 204 acres of beauty. There is a breathtaking beach with wide vistas on the bay, expansively undeveloped with low dunes, upland forest and wetlands.

Its forested areas consist of loblolly pine (pinus taeda) and some hardwoods. Approximately half of the area is in marsh community. Shrubs dot this area with wax myrtle (Myrica cerifera), cattail (Typha augustifolia), and eastern rose mallow (Hibiscus moscheutos). The marshes are rich with olneys’s bulrush, (Juncus roemerianus), widgeon grass (Ruppia maritime) while the lower marsh margins contain smooth cordgrass (Sparitna alternifloria).

The shoreline is a sandy beach habitat for the threatened northeastern beach tiger beetle (Cicindella dorsalis dorsalis).

This beetle requires undisturbed beach habitat for their 2-year life cycle. It can be recognized as being 2/3 of an inch long with white to cream-coloring on its back. They have long dark legs and their eggs are laid in the sand.

Many critters live in this area as well. River otters and gray foxes can be occasionally viewed. Waterfowl, which can include tundra swans and American black ducks along with many migrating species can be easily observed from the beach and observation deck.

Hughlett Point can be located by going north from Kilmarnock on route 200 for about 4 miles. Turn right (east) on route 606 (Shiloh School Road) for about 2 miles. The restored school is worth a stop and is on your left at the stop sign. Turn right on 605 for approximately 2 miles. The preserve is on your left with an oyster shell parking lot.

So go and enjoy. Stroll along the boardwalk to the beach (best done during the cooler months…to prevent blood letting by an abundance of mosquitoes, in the marsh area). Breathe in the bay breezes and take in its wonderful vistas. Take binoculars to glimpse a rare find from the observation deck.

And remember to be thankful for the preservation of this wonderful area by the Department of Conservation and Recreation.
The Department of Conservation and Recreation
The department of conservation and recreation is a state agency under the Secretary of Natural Resources. It consists of several divisions within the agency of Natural Heritage.

The division was formed in 1989 with the mission of developing an inventory of land that contained rare and endangered insects, animals or plants. These are considered the natural heritage “elements.”

Under their guidelines land can be bought or dedicated (similar to a strong conservation easement). The land will then be protected against development forever. In 1989 the system was developed and in October 1990 the first land was acquired. This land was along the North Landing River in Virginia Beach.

Rebecca Wilson is the regional steward. The Natural Heritage Program within the Department of Conservation and Recreation has 35 full-time funded folks to run 60 Natural area preserves (49,901 acres). They also do all of the land protection, including all of the real estate deals, inventory the state for rare, threatened or exemplary species and manage all of the data that is produced by the inventory staff. They also respond to requests for environmental review. These requests numbered 2,287 in 2009. All requests were evaluated with 300 that resulted in state records and 30 species that were found to be new to science. In addition to the requests 8,727 additional resources were explored.

Rebecca has served in this capacity for over 12 years. She manages approxi­mately 6000 acres and 10 natural area preserves. And in case you think she does not have enough on her plate, one moment she is adeptly handling a class of Master Naturalists (she is one of the chapter advisors) and the next wheeling along in her truck to another destination. She may be in DCR uniform speaking to a civic group or in a helmet and fire gear with blow torch running a prescribed burn. A prescribed burn is a highly managed, controlled burn. It can be used to control an existing fire or to create new vegetation that needs that heat for procreation.

The 204 acres of Hughlett Point were originally purchased by a developer in the late 1980s. A large development including town houses and marinas was planned. With the slowing of development the developer sold to DCR through funding and grants from the US Fish and Wildlife service on July 28th 1994. Additional funding for the original purchase was provided by the Northern Neck Chapter of the National Audubon Society and the Dividing Creek Association. The Dividing Creek Association, a collection of nearby homeowners, gives annually as well to support this preservation effort.

The 204 acres include meadow, marsh, beach and woods. Following the impact of hurricane Isabelle in 2002, the tree line bordering the beach was decimated. Access along the boardwalk ended abruptly in a tangle of trees that had folded and snapped off on the land like cheap lawn chairs. The path to the beach was lost in a tangle that looked like it would take a lifetime to clean up.

DCR hired a crew of 12 with large chain saws that worked for better than 3 weeks to clear the rubble and restore the ability of the public to access the beach. In 2008 a fire of unknown origin, destroyed the observation deck. To control the fire, Rebecca was on hand. An area was cleared to the north of the fire and a prescribed burn was established to control the blaze. This clearing established a shortened path to the beach. On October 15th 2010, the DCR hosted the dedication of a new wildlife observation deck overlooking the Chesapeake Bay. It is a half-mile walk from the parking lot.

A Volunteer’s View of Hughlett Point
Carol J. Hammer walked Hughlett Point when she first moved to this area. She continues to walk with visitors, friends and her dog. Dogs are permitted on leash only for the protection of the nesting birds and sensitive native plants. Rare orchids can be viewed just off the path at the right time of the year.

Carol became involved as one of the first of a volunteer group to assist the DCR Steward in the monitoring of Hughlett Point. This group formed in 2004 and continues to this day. Observations are made monthly concerning the frequency of visitors, dogs on or off leash and fires. This information is formatted and sent to the DCR and Hughlett Point’s steward.

Carol says of Hughlett Point, “It is a lovely, peaceful place to go.”

So why are you still sitting there reading this. Grab your binoculars and hat and get out there.

By Judy Ripley