A fishing pier in need of repair, empty estate and pool houses, and a mile of riverfront with stunning views of Mobjack Bay: the recreational possibilities of the Captain Sinclair Recreational Area in Gloucester are easy to see, but getting the property to live up to its name has taken some time and creative thinking on the part of the Middle Peninsula Public Access Authority (MP-PAA).
Established in 2003 by the Virginia General Assembly, the MP-PAA is a single-purpose public entity charged with increasing Virginians’ opportunities to enjoy the Commonwealth’s coastal resources. The MP-PAA identifies and secures sites for public use, determines appropriate levels of use for each site, and implements corresponding management plans.
This work requires funding, however, and the MP-PAA has no state-allocated revenue stream to help in achieving its mission. It has received 41 parcels totaling 400 acres as charitable gifts since 2006 and has acquired another 725 acres through grant funds. The 97-acre Captain Sinclair tract was donated to the MP-PAA in 2014.
“We are land-rich and cash-poor,” says Lewie Lawrence, the MP-PAA’s executive director. “We don’t want to sell any of the property we’ve been gifted, we want to see it all in public use, but we need to provide the infrastructure to make these places accessible. That means thinking of creative ways to generate revenue.”
Partnering with the Virginia Outdoors Foundation is one way that the MP-PAA has been able to get the funds it needs to do its work. “When my board understood the opportunity that an open-space easement presents, we knew this was the solution for the Captain Sinclair property,” Lawrence says. The 97-acre tract was donated to the MP-PAA in 2014.
Through a $180,000 grant from its Preservation Trust Fund in June of this year, VOF purchased an easement on the 40-acre portion of the property most suited for public use. This parcel includes the waterfront and existing structures as well as areas of mixed hardwood and pine forest and wetlands.
The easement limits development on this portion of the property and guarantees access to the public, and the grant money will allow MP-PAA to make needed infrastructure improvements. These improvements come from recommendations made by the Virginia Institute of Marine Science, with input and support from the Middle Peninsula Planning District Commission, The Middle Peninsula Public Access Authority Board, Gloucester County, and the citizens of Gloucester.
In the short term, the MP-PAA plans to use the money to replace the dock, add lighting and public signage, and grade and gravel interior roads, driveways and a parking area on the property. These improvements will make the shoreline portion of the property available for fishing and waterfront educational programs, such as guided oyster gardening and demonstrations of living shoreline restoration projects.
Future improvements include construction of an elevated boardwalk, and biking and walking trails on the drylands, marshlands and forest on the western portion of the property. Users of the trail will be able to reach two observation decks that look across the wetlands to the Severn River. Educational signage along the trails will describe the wetlands, forests, plant species, and common wildlife in the area. Bird-watching along the trails should be exceptional.
Eventually the MP-PAA envisions restoring the estate house for use as an event facility and converting the pool house into a bait shop and kayak rental facility, both generating revenue for the continued upkeep of the site.
“This property has so much potential to add value to Gloucester’s blue-green infrastructure,” says Lawrence. “We’ve been really thankful that VOF wants to walk this journey with us.”
Amenities available on the property now include a picnic area available to reserve for half- and full-day gatherings, reservable waterfowl hunting blinds, and several piers for launching kayaks, canoes, and paddle boards. For directions, or to reserve the picnic area or a hunting blind, click here.