Local Commentary

Senator Whipple’s Richmond Report

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The Eastern Shore of Virginia is a destination not to be missed.

John Smith in 1608 led an expedition there and wrote “…heaven and earth never agreed better to frame a place for man’s habitation…”. It’s still true today.

Recently I spent a few days there when the Economic Development and Natural Resources subcommittee of Senate Finance that I chair met on the Eastern Shore, a region of Virginia with great history and natural beauty.

Tucked between the Chesapeake Bay and the Atlantic Ocean, its widest point is 22 miles. To the east are barrier islands that protect the coast from the ocean. The best known of these are Chincoteague and Assateague, and Smith Island at the southern end, named by John Smith for himself. Many of the barrier islands are owned by the Nature Conservancy. This is the longest stretch of untouched natural shoreline on the whole Atlantic Coast. Special boat tours are available.

Our subcommittee members and staff stayed at Kiptopeke State Park. Large lodges that sleep 16 are available for rent, along with smaller cabins and campsites with electricity. water and sewer. You can even rent a yurt (look it up).

On a tour of the park we learned that since 1963 Kiptopeke has been the site of bird population studies sponsored by the Coastal Virginia Wildlife Observatory Birds of prey are observed and banded by volunteers from September through November. Kiptopeke’s hawk observatory is among the top 15 nationwide.

Near Kiptopeke is the National Wildlife Refuge that provides crucial habitat and stopover for songbirds, raptors and even monarch butterflies on their way south. I’m told it features a breathtaking view of the seaside barrier island chain from atop a WWII bunker. Unfortunately we were inside for our meetings so I definitely have to go back for an outdoors visit.

We had a boat trip on the coastal bay to see the restoration of eel grass. The seeds are harvested by volunteers and then broadcast into the shallow water. The scientist who developed the technique met us in the bay waist-deep in water. It is regarded as a rare, highly successful restoration that is globally significant.

We visited a successful aquaculture business that is growing baby clams and oysters indoors, then transferring them to the clean water of a creek off the coastal bay. We also went to a great winery. We arrived by van but you can also take a kayak trip to the vineyard and then taste the wines. Most of the Eastern Shore farmers, however, are in traditional agriculture.

Time did not permit a visit to Wallops Island near Chincoteague but we received a briefing about the commercial launch facility there.

The Eastern Shore can be reached by going across the Bay Bridge, through Maryland to Route 13. An even more spectacular way to go is across the Chesapeake Bay Bridge Tunnel, a 21-mile engineering marvel reached from Virginia Beach. Both trips are about 4 hours from here, but worth it to get to this beautiful and peaceful natural area.

For more information: www.esvatourism.org

 


Senator Whipple represents the 31st District in the Virginia State Senate. She may be e-mailed at [email protected]