LWCF Funds Used to Purchase Dismal Swamp Property from Chapter Member’s Family

LWCF (Land and Water Conservation Fund ) funds Used to Purchase Dismal Swamp Property from Chapter Member’s Family; US Fish & Wildlife Director Visits Jericho Ditch Lane Site While Touring Dismal Swamp NWR (National Wildlife Refuge)

Submitted by Mike Lane, S-N IWLA chapter Board Member and Conservation Committee member.

Shown in this photo from left to right are: Sandy Ricks (Constituent Services Representative for Senator Mark Warner), Brian Van Eerdin (The Nature Conservancy), Eric Sheppard (Diversity Restoration Solutions, Inc.), Aurelia Skipwith (Director, US Fish & Wildlife Service), Mike Lane (Suffolk-Nansemond Chapter, IWLA), Chris Lowie
(Manager, Great Dismal Swamp NWR).

The Izaak Walton League has long advocated permanent funding for the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF); used to acquire land for wildlife refuges, parks, and other conservation purposes. Recent passage of the “Great American Outdoors Act” finally ensures continuity of this funding without the need for periodic re-authorization by Congress – an endeavor that regularly burned up scarce time and resources that could have been applied elsewhere for natural resource advocacy. Closer to home, the US Fish & Wildlife Service recently used LWCF funding to acquire a Suffolk property at the intersection of White Marsh Road and Jericho Ditch Lane from the Langston Family, to add to the Great Dismal Swamp National Wildife Refuge. Darden Langston is a long-time member of our Chapter’s Board of Directors. In the past, his family has sold other Dismal Swamp Property to the Service to help expand the Refuge.

“The Langston family has been part of the history of the Great Dismal Swamp for eighty years. Our grandfather, N.T. Poarch, Sr. and our father J.D. Langston, helped build the roads and canals and logged the timber for Union Camp [now International Paper]”, said Langston. “We are proud to continue that tradition with the transfer of this property to the Refuge in hopes it will help provide enjoyment and education of the Great Dismal Swamp for future generations.”

Jericho Ditch Lane is one of several public entrances into Refuge. It is situated in the northwestern corner of the Refuge, within walking distance of downtown Suffolk. Much of this area is still characterized by woods and farm fields; however, because of its proximity to downtown there is considerable development pressure on remaining private holdings in the immediate vicinity of the Jericho Lane entrance. The Service has long hoped to improve the public access aspects of this entrance; purchase of the Langston property secures a strong “anchor property” from which to leverage funds to purchase other properties in the area from willing sellers.

Working behind the scene with Refuge staff and others over the past several years, Chapter members have helped develop conceptual plans for parking areas, trails, and some interpretive and passive outdoor recreational facilities at Jericho Ditch Lane. Several property owners with whom these plans were shared have responded favorably and have indicated a willingness to sell or otherwise preserve the rural character of their properties using tools such as conservation easements. “We’ve made notable progress toward our goal, but quirks of policy, protocol, and procedure as relate to pursuing acquisition, easements, grants or other funding still present challenges. However, we will continue to be patient and innovative; and press on” said Chapter member Mike Lane, who has also been involved with the project.

In early July, Aurelia Skipwith, Director of the US Fish and Wildlife Service, toured the Dismal Swamp with Refuge Manager Chris Lowie, making a stop at the Langston Property to promote the Great American Outdoors Act and the Land and Water Conservation Fund. At that time it had been passed by Congress, but not yet passed by the Senate or signed by the President. Unfortunately, Darden was unable to join the tour that day, but Mike was able to meet with Ms. Skipwith at the site; and later, along with staff from Sen. Mark Warner’s office and others. The Chapter commends the Langston Family’s decision to make their property the cornerstone for the Jericho Entrance Project, and greatly appreciates Director Skipwith’s choice of using this acquisition and the Great Dismal Swamp NWR to showcase the importance of the Great American Outdoors Act and permanently funding the Land and Water Conservation Fund.

Take a minute to write or e-mail your Congressmen, Senators, and the President to thank them for passing this important conservation legislation into law.

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