A Long time Coming…A Long Way to Go

On May 1, 2008, public officials and invited guests gathered at a site overlooking Crow’s Nest to celebrate the acquisition of a portion of the peninsula.  As the opening speaker, Joseph Maroon of the Department of Conservation and Recreation, noted, “It’s been a long time coming.”  The long-overdue preservation of some acreage on Crow’s Nest was indeed a moment to relish. Members of Save Crow’s Nest should be proud of the role they played in helping this day come.  However, what was left mostly unsaid at the ceremony was that there still is a long way to go and the bulk of the peninsula remains threatened by development.

The campaign to save Crow’s Nest is at a fork in the road and the dedication ceremony is an opportunity to update you on the status of Crow’s Nest, to reflect upon where we’ve come, and to examine what still needs to be done.


[insert map] The US Fish and Wildlife service originally proposed that the land highlighted in blue be included as part of a Crow’s Nest refuge.  Since that time, this property has been developed.  How much of Crow’s Nest will meet a similar fate?


Some recent history

It’s often forgotten that land once targeted for preservation at Crow’s Nest has already been destroyed by development.  In 2000, when the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service released its final environmental assessment for what was to be called the “Accokeek Creek National Wildlife Refuge,” it recommended preservation not only of the Crow’s Nest peninsula (between Accoceek and Potomac Creeks) but also the steep terrain immediately north of the Accokeek Creek and land south of Potomac Creek as well–the area inside the red line in the map above. The proposed refuge was to have a total of 7,000 acres (there are links to this report at the bottom of this page).  When the Bush administration stopped all land acquisition for preservation, plans for the Accoceek Creek National Wildlife Refuge screeched to a halt and developers moved ahead with some construction in the area highlighted in blue in the map above.

The Poplar Hills development just north of Accokeek Creek is a monument to this inaction.  Once targeted for preservation, this area is now the site of many homes constructed on steep slopes plagued by erosion and water runoff.  In fact, at the exact moment that dignitaries were celebrating at the Crow’s Nest dedication ceremony, bulldozers and other heavy equipment were carving up the newest phase of the Poplar Hills development on a hillside that had once been targeted for protection.

When allies of developers say defenders of Crow’s Nest need to “compromise,” remind them of this history.  The Fish and Wildlife plan was for 7,000 acres; Save Crow’s Nest is calling for the preservation of just 4,000.
At the very moment that dignitaries were celebrating having preserved a portion of Crow’s Nest, heavy equipment just across the road from Crow’s Nest was carving through an area once targeted for preservation.  This latest phase of the Poplar Hills development off of Brooke Road is being built on land that the US Fish and Wildlife Service had wanted to preserve as part of the Crow’s Nest refuge.  Will this be the fate of the remaining unprotected portions of the Crow’s Nest peninsula?

The Current Status of Crow’s Nest

Unfortunately, we are not even close to saving 4,000 acres on Crow’s Nest.  Instead, the Crow’s Nest peninsula has essentially been carved up into three pieces (see map below).

The recent dedication ceremony celebrated the purchase and preservation of the 1770 acres (about 44%–in green above) that includes the tip of the peninsula, with its steep grades sloping down to the surrounding marshes.

The deal for this purchase includes a limited option to purchase another 1176 acres (29%–in yellow), the second piece of Crow’s Nest.

Finally, no serious efforts are underway to purchase and preserve the remaining 1120 acres (28%–in red), known as “Crow’s Nest Harbour.”  In fact, backhoes and other equipment are already being used on the property for pre-development preparations.

Several speakers at the dedication ceremony noted that the County and its partners need to move forward on the option to purchase the second part of Crow’s Nest, though there are no guarantees of funding to do so.  But none of the speakers even mentioned the development threat posed on the “Crow’s Nest Harbour” portion of the peninsula.

Of Deals and Developers

Money talks and northern Virginia municipalities have a long history of cutting deals favorable to developers.  The property owners once proposed “cluster housing” to introduce thousands of housing units unto Crow’s Nest while “protecting” some of the remaining acreage.  Citizens and environmentalists were so used to being steamrolled by powerful developers that even the offer of such crumbs was seen by some as a good “compromise.”

But a simple conviction has always animated Save Crow’s Nest; the entire peninsula should be saved.  As noted above, citizens have already compromised with the loss of much of the acreage originally proposed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.  Crow’s Nest is where a line needs to be drawn and developer-friendly deals that damage the environment need to be rejected.  Plenty of you have supported that position and helped us to continue the fight.  Make no mistake about it; if you had not rallied and spoken out on behalf saving Crow’s Nest the accomplishment celebrated at the dedication ceremony would never have happened.  Without being held accountable, public officials would not have taken even this first step.

However, the deal that was brokered for this first portion of Crow’s Nest was a weak one that developers could readily embrace.  It paid them a higher-than-market-value price in a rapidly declining housing market, while leaving them free to pursue development on other portions of the peninsula.  By failing to use its power of eminent domain to ensure the best deal for taxpayers, and by failing to enact basic environmental legislation to protect land like Crow’s Nest from irresponsible development, the County accommodated developers once again.

The Future

Now, Crow’s Nest faces an uncertain future.  Will citizens and public officials build on the momentum of this first step and continue to insist on the preservation of the entire peninsula?  Will the County enact environmental legislation that can protect Crow’s Nest and other similar areas from irresponsible development?  Will the County use eminent domain if necessary to ensure the preservation of the Crow’s Nest Harbour segment of the peninsula?  In short, will Stafford be serious about its commitment to preserving Crow’s Nest?

Or will complacency set in as people argue we’ve done “enough” for Crow’s Nest?  Will the history of developer-friendly “compromise” be forgotten as the potential for a Crow’s Nest wildlife refuge continues to dwindle from 7,000 acres, to 4,000 acres, to 2,900 acres, to just the current 1700 acres?

That history remains to be written.