GIS Map Gallery: September 2008

MOM September 2008

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Game Department Officially Opens Merrimac Farm WMA, an Important Natural Habitat

Dedicating a significant public land acquisition and celebrating a unique partnership between the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries, the Prince William Conservation Alliance, Marine Corps Base Quantico, and the McDowell family, who owned the property.

Nokesville, VA - Merrimac Farm, a more than 300-acre property in Prince William County, and the newest addition to the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries' (VDGIF) statewide network of wildlife management areas is officially open to the public. The land features diverse wildlife habitats - wetlands, hardwood forest and upland meadows - as well as access to Cedar Run.

The property was acquired earlier this year by the VDGIF with support from the Prince William Conservation Alliance, Marine Corps Base Quantico, and the McDowell family (who owned the property). As a result of this successful partnership involving state and federal agencies, local non-government organizations and private individuals, this scenic property has been permanently conserved for public use including hunting, fishing, wildlife watching and environmental education programs.

While Merrimac Farm Wildlife Management Area (WMA) is now open to the public, special managed hunts will not be available for several more months. To protect the integrity of the property as well as to minimize user conflicts and negative impact on habitat, Merrimac Farm WMA will have some restrictions. Horseback and bicycle riding, use of all-terrain vehicles, dog walking and jogging will be prohibited.

A feature at the dedication was the presentation by the Virginia Native Plant Society designating Merrimac Farm as a Virginia Native Plant Society Registry Site. The designation was given not only for the large stand of Virginia bluebells and other spring wildflowers in the Cedar Run floodplain, but also for the outstanding upland forest community in the northern and western portions of the property. Tours of the Virginia bluebells were offered after the ceremony.

Why Merrimac Farm WMA is Significant

The acquisition of Merrimac Farm presents a unique opportunity to protect forested wetlands and vernal pools, some of the most threatened habitat in the United States, in one of the fastest growing communities in the country. The proximity to highly urban populations makes Merrimac Farm an ideal place for the more than 2 million northern Virginia residents to participate in wildlife-related recreation and education. Plans for the site include special managed hunts, fishing, wildlife viewing areas, and environmental education programs. VDGIF will use this site to demonstrate wildlife management principles and practices in an urban/suburban setting which will hopefully serve as a model for other public lands in northern Virginia.

In addition to protecting wildlife habitat for such species as bobwhite quail, songbirds, waterfowl, deer, fox, rabbits, frogs and salamanders, the establishment of Merrimac Farm WMA - with its one mile of frontage on Cedar Run - will protect this important watershed and enhance restoration of the Chesapeake Bay. Cedar Run flows into Occoquan River, a tributary of the Potomac River. Protecting the wetlands along Cedar Run will also promote better water quality for northern Virginia. Occoquan Reservoir provides drinking water to more than 1.2 million people who reside in Prince William, Fairfax, Fauquier, Loudoun and Stafford counties.

Previously the property had been managed as part of a shooting preserve, resulting in excellent wildlife habitat. Merrimac Farm WMA is adjacent to 59,000-acre Marine Corps Base Quantico, forming an impressive contiguous tract of wildlife habitat.

Partners Made the Acquisition Happen

Merrimac Farm was purchased for $2,859,500 using funds from a variety of sources. The Prince William Conservation Alliance (PWCA) secured a Virginia Land Conservation Foundation (VLCF) grant in the amount of $820,773 to be used by the VDGIF to purchase the property. Administered by the Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation, VLCF grants are used to acquire and protect special lands. The grants require a 50 percent match. The VDGIF provided $608,997 from its capital funds toward the purchase. The U.S. Department of the Navy contributed $1,429,750 to VDGIF under the federal encroachment protection program.

Virginia Secretary of Natural Resources L. Preston Bryant, Jr. said of the acquisition, "Merrimac Farm is an excellent example of how partnering organizations can use the Virginia Land Conservation Foundation grants to protect important habitat. This project contributes to Governor Kaine's goal of conserving 400,000 acres by the time he leaves office. Achieving that goal will not only protect our land and water for wildlife but also improve the quality of life for all Virginians."

VDGIF Acting Director (during the time of aquisition) G. Mike Bise commented, "This acquisition simply could not have taken place without all the players coming together. The Prince William Conservation Alliance and its Executive Director Kim Hosen kept this project alive and in front of our Board. The Quantico Marine Corps Base established a restrictive easement under a federal program that secures buffers for military installations. The McDowell family had a strong desire to create a legacy for Dean McDowell by conserving this property. This has been a long time coming, and it was the cooperative spirit that finally got the job done."

The U.S. Marine Corps' involvement in the acquisition is part of a federal program to work with state and local agencies, conservation organizations, and willing landowners to protect the mission integrity of military installations by establishing an easement that will act as a buffer area outside the installation's existing border to protect against incompatible development that could impact current or future military operations occurring within the current installation boundaries, as well as to support local land conservation efforts. Merrimac Farm is the first acquisition of its kind in the Commonwealth of Virginia.

"This partnership not only allows us to continue our mission of training Marines, but also lets the local community enjoy important Virginia habitat in its natural state," said Quantico Base Commander Colonel Charles Dallachie. "We are happy to partner with the Commonwealth of Virginia and the Prince William Conservation Alliance to honor the wishes of the McDowell family and protect this land from development. I look forward to other opportunities with willing partners for compatible land use efforts on all sides of the base."

Merrimac Farm was originally owned by Col. Dean McDowell, who purchased the property after World War II and whose untimely death in 2002 put his property at risk of development. The continued support of Col. McDowell's heirs and their commitment to the preservation of Merrimac Farm for public uses has been instrumental to the success of this five-year effort. Gail McDowell said, "Our family is committed to conservation. We are delighted that the property will be protected and available to the public."

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