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In support of Blackwater River project

To the editor:

The Suffolk-Nansemond Chapter of the Izaak Walton League of America (IWLA) greatly appreciates efforts by Suffolk Parks and Recreation to expand and enhance outdoor recreational opportunities for Suffolk citizens throughout the city and wholeheartedly supports and endorses efforts by the city, working with the Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation (DCR), to acquire and protect the 338-acre White Property along the Blackwater River in southwestern Suffolk. This property is situated conveniently just off Route 58 in a part of the city underserved by public recreational facilities.

The area along the Blackwater River between South Quay and the North Carolina state line has long been identified by the Commonwealth of Virginia for acquisition, protection and management for outdoor recreational and conservation purposes — at least as far back as the early 1980s (1984 Virginia Outdoors Plan). Only in recent years (circa 2010) has significant progress been made toward this end, with DCR’s establishment of the South Quay Natural Area and inclusion of this portion of the Blackwater River in the Virginia Scenic Rivers Program; and more recently (2016) as a recommendation in the city’s Parks and Recreation Master Plan to provide public recreational access to the Blackwater River.

Some likely will say that “now” (amid concerns surrounding COVID-19 and potential fiscal fallout) is not the time to invest in such things that may not be fully operational for years. To the contrary, we believe that it would be short-sighted and fiscally irresponsible to fail to acquire this property now, using substantial state grants for the purchase; grants that otherwise might not be available in the near future. Rare opportunities often come at inconvenient times (such as now), and capitalizing on them requires resolve.

In 2013, following several years of economic malaise, Gov. Bob McDonnell and the General Assembly seized the opportunity to acquire and protect Virginia’s Natural Bridge as a state park. Similarly, the City Council now has an opportunity to exhibit foresight and demonstrate leadership in the face of uncertain and distressing times; to look optimistically toward the city’s future and to act decisively for the benefit of future generations of Suffolk’s citizens.

We urge you to approve acquisition of the White Property and fully support efforts by Suffolk Parks and Recreation staff to work with DCR to develop the envisioned recreational facilities, consistent with the findings of the pending Environmental Assessment and subsequent public comments. Such action would demonstrate good-faith delivery by city leaders to calls voiced by its citizens for expanded and enhanced outdoor recreational facilities. Thank you for your positive action on this opportunity.

Ray Powell

President, Suffolk-Nansemond Chapter IWLA