Fones Cliffs Rezoning Meeting This Thursday

1Along a pristine stretch of the Rappahannock River on the Northern Neck, a massive, proposed development threatens a place like no other in the Chesapeake watershed. Fones Cliffs is one of the most important bald eagle habitats on the East Coast and what many consider to be the jewel of the Rappahannock.

This Thursday the Richmond County Board of Supervisors will again consider a request from the Diatomite Corporation to rezone part of this extraordinary place. All to make way for parking lots, commercial development, and townhomes. 

Please join us on Thursday, November 12 to oppose this destructive, short-sighted development. Details are as follows: 

What: Richmond County Board of Supervisors Meeting on Fones Cliffs Rezoning

When: Thursday, November 12, 9 a.m.

Where: Public Meeting Room, County Administrator's Office 333-3415, 101 Court Circle, Warsaw, VA 22572

RSVP: Please let us know if you plan to attend the meeting by e-mailing: AJurczyk@cbf.org.

Yes, we're concerned about the eagles, but our concern extends beyond threats to the bald eagle population. It extends to the health of this land and community—both environmentally and economically. 

The proposed development would require extensive clearing of trees, exposing the land's highly erodible soils directly to rain and risking the stability of the cliffs. The health of the Rappahannock and nearby streams would be at risk, as sediment and polluted runoff from the new homes, roadways, parking lots, and golf course would flow directly into them. 

And for what benefit? Our experts believe the project would generate little net revenue for the county when you take into account expected increased costs for roads and schools.  

Thoughtful stewardship can preserve Fones Cliffs' unparalleled natural beauty and rich history for residents and visitors while creating economic opportunities that last far into the future. Please join us on Thursday.

—Emmy Nicklin
CBF's Senior Manager of Digital Media

If you haven't yet, please sign our petition to Save Fones Cliffs!

Above photo: The Diatomite Corporation of America is threatening to develop part of this unspoiled place that is home to one of the most important bald eagle habitats on the East Coast. Photo by Bill Portlock/CBF Staff.

 


Fones Cliffs Hearing Update

3Photo by Bill Portlock/CBF Staff.

In the last few weeks, more than 6,700 voices spoke out against a devastating development proposed for part of Fones Cliffs along the Rappahannock River in rural Richmond County, Virginia. Last Thursday night the Richmond County Board of Supervisors heard those voices. They decided to postpone a vote on Diatomite Corporation's request to rezone part of Fones Cliffs*

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The room was packed at last Thursday's Richmond County Board of Supervisors public hearing. Photo by Kenny Fletcher/CBF Staff.

In an overflowing public hearing, individuals spoke passionately about the harm that this nearly 1,000-acre development would have on the community and the stunning natural landscape of Fones Cliffs, which is home to one of the most important bald eagle habitats on the East Coast. Former Virginia Delegate Tayloe Murphy urged the board to "consider the overall welfare of the community and not just the welfare of the owners of this property," saying "the best interest of all of the citizens of Richmond County would [be to] call upon [the board] to deny this application." And Bryan Watts of The Center for Conservation Biology spoke of Fones Cliffs as a critical "touchstone for eagles." 

We thank the board for wisely postponing a vote until their November 12 meeting. At this point, any decision on rezoning the property would be premature. Many unanswered questions remain concerning how the Miami-based developer would ensure protection of the unparalleled environment and natural resources at Fones Cliffs.

We look forward to working with the supervisors as they continue their careful review of this important matter. And many thanks again to you for helping protect this jewel of the Rappahannock. If you haven't already, please sign the petition and encourage others to do the same.

—Emmy Nicklin
CBF's Senior Manager of Digital Media

P.S. If you or someone you know lives in Richmond County and would be interested in knowing more about this development, please forward
Virginia Outreach and Advocacy Manager Ann Jurczyk's contact information (ajurczyk@cbf.org or 804-780-1392)
. If you or they believe this development is not in the county's best interest, we encourage attendance at the November 12 Board of Supervisors Meeting. Stay tuned for further details.

*The part of Fones Cliffs that is owned by the Diatomite Corporation of America.

Learn more about Fones Cliffs and why it's important in our blog series here.

 


Fones Cliffs: It Could Be Lost Forever, Part 5


DSC_5952When I was young, I thought all rivers were called "Rappahannock." Its exotic-sounding name thrilled and enthralled on weekend trips to my father's Blue Ridge Mountain homeland where we canoed the cool, clear rapids of its headwaters and explored curved, muddied sandbars as if Pocahontas explorers. Every summer, we'd follow that same river down to my maternal grandfather's house on the tip of Virginia's Northern Neck where the Rappahannock grew into something altogether different—a thick, open, salty expanse perfect for sailing and swimming and that flowed mightily into the Chesapeake.

The Rappahannock was the only river in the world to me then, and I knew every inch of it . . . or so I thought.

But then roughly two weeks ago, I found myself on the bow of a 17-foot Whaler discovering a part of the Rappahannock I'd never seen: the middle. I sat surrounded by steep, white, and red cliffs (called Fones Cliffs) rising more than 100 feet in the air on one side of the river and a wide sea of wild rice, pickerel weed, and arrow arum on the other ("a bread basket for birds and fish" my guide and CBF educator Bill Portlock told me).

DSC_5978It was a gray day—the air smelling of rain, and the sky on the verge of breaking open and pouring down on us. But it was anything but gray. The cliffs were alive with bald eagles gliding high above the black locust, white oaks, and tulip poplars that struggled to hang onto the crumbling banks. Across the river, swallows (a clear sign of autumn), blue dragonflies, and monarch butterflies flittered above and in between Beverly Marsh while migrating soras whinnied their two-noted calls.

I asked Portlock, who has more than 30 years of experience taking students, teachers, and other eager river rats like myself on Chesapeake waters, if he has a favorite spot in all the watershed. "This one," he said without a moment’s hesitation. He explained that here one can truly "envision a part of Chesapeake Bay the way it was 400 years ago."

DSC_5922But this place—perhaps the truest remnant of what the Chesapeake was—is also potentially the site of a massive, 1,000-acre (or roughly 750 football-field) development*. These cliffs, that provide one of the most important bald eagle habitats on the East Coast, could be turned into 718 homes and townhouses, 18 guest cottages, an 18-hole golf course and driving range, 116-room lodge with spa, 150-seat restaurant, a small commercial center, a skeet and trap range, equestrian center with stables for 90 horses, a 10,000-square-foot community barn, and seven piers along the river.

Tomorrow the Richmond County Board of Supervisors will consider a rezoning request by the site's Miami-based owner. I don't have to tell you that rezoning would destroy this unspoiled stretch of the Rappahannock and all the wildlife that call it home. Stand with us in protecting this extraordinary place. Click here to sign the petition to Save Fones Cliffs before the rezoning hearing TOMORROW, October 8!

—Text and photos by Emmy Nicklin
CBF's Senior Manager of Digital Media

UPDATE: On November 12, the Richmond County Board of Supervisors voted to approve the Diatomite Corporation's request to rezone Fones Cliffs. This is heartbreaking. We are disappointed that the board has voted to approve the rezoning of the nearly 1,000 pristine acres of Fones Cliffs for a massive commercial-residential development, and we are examining all appropriate options for protecting this treasured site. Many thanks to all of you who have signed petitions or attended meetings or spoken out at public hearings all in an effort to save this extraordinary place. Your support has been tremendous, and we hope we can count on you as we move forward in this fight.  

*The part of Fones Cliffs that is owned by the Diatomite Corporation of America.

 


Fones Cliffs: It Could Be Lost Forever, Part 4

1 (Hill)
Waterman Albert Oliff lands his skiff at Carter’s Wharf. Oliff has been fishing the Rappahannock for more than 50 years. Photo by Hill Wellford.

For 20 years Wayne Fisher has made a living as a waterman on the Rappahannock River in Virginia's Northern Neck, following in the footsteps of generations of fishermen in his family. These days, Wayne and his son Aaron work their pound nets on the highly productive stretch of river sandwiched between Fones Cliffs and Beverly Marsh, often teaming up with longtime waterman Albert Oliff. Pound nets are an ancient fishing technique, and these watermen are carrying on a way of life that has changed little since Captain John Smith sailed through this area in 1608.

But change is afoot on this part of the Rappahannock. In recent years, fewer and fewer pound nets are worked on the river as sediment clouds the water and more and more recreational boaters accidentally damage nets and free the catch, the watermen say. Fisher fears that the proposed massive development at Fones Cliffs* will further threaten the Rappahannock's fishery. "I certainly depend on this river full time. It's how I make a living, it's how I support my family, and it's how I pay my bills," he says. "This development would affect my livelihood, causing more runoff, more erosion, and more boat traffic."

3 (Bill P)
Watermen Wayne and Aaron Fisher land their catch of blue catfish at Carter’s Warf after emptying pound nets off Fones Cliffs. Photo by Bill Portlock/CBF Staff.

What worries Fisher is the scale of the commercial development, along with the likely increased sediment and nutrient runoff into the river from the homes and golf course. "If they had asked for something simpler like 50 homes that might have been alright. But what they want to do is completely outrageous—718 homes, a hotel, horse stables, a golf course, seven piers. I don't see how you can even put in seven piers there," he says. "I have a concern for the river. It's not just a concern for me as a waterman, it's also a concern for the tributaries and the Bay."

Fisher's concerns are especially timely this week, as Richmond County is set to consider on October 8 a request to rezone nearly 1,000 acres along Fones Cliffs, a move that would pave the way for the development. "More buildings mean more runoff and more chemicals in the river. Richmond County needs to take into consideration that this river is how I make my living. It is how I survive. Don't take that away from me," he says.  

—Kenny Fletcher, CBF's Virginia Communications Coordinator

Stand with us in protecting this jewel of the Rappahannock for all the fish and watermen who depend on it. Click here to sign the petition to Save the Eagles, Save Fones Cliffs before the rezoning hearing this Thursday, October 8!

*The part of Fones Cliffs that is owned by the Diatomite Corporation of America.

5 (Kenny)
The watermen set their pound nets in the productive stretch of the Rappahannock between Fones Cliffs and Beverly Marsh. Photo by Kenny Fletcher/CBF Staff.

Fones Cliffs: It Could Be Lost Forever, Part 3

We have just three days left to stand up and fight for one of the most beautiful and pristine places in the Chesapeake watershed. Fones Cliffs is an idyllic and dramatic spot in Richmond County on Virginia's Northern Neck. The extensive forest and high white cliffs rising above the Rappahannock River provide an ideal hunting perch for the hundreds of eagles that migrate through the area, as well as numerous nesting pairs.  

But a large part of this remarkable place and the wildlife that depend on it is at risk.* A short-sighted, Miami-based developer is petitioning to rezone the land so he can turn this unique and fragile site into parking lots, commercial development, and townhouses. 

Perhaps there's no one who knows this extraordinary part of the world better than Bill Portlock—educator, naturalist, photographer. With the lens of his camera below, Portlock shows us just how much is at stake if we were to lose this jewel of the Rappahannock. 

5
Adult bald eagle. Our national bird inhabits Fones Cliffs in unusually large numbers. There are breeding pairs, sub-adult (eagles that do not reproduce until four or five years old), and non-breeding pairs, including bald eagles from the Canadian Maritimes (in winter) and Florida (during the summer). Photo by Bill Portlock/CBF Staff.

 

1
Fones Cliffs at Luke’s Island with adjacent wetlands. This brackish (a mix of fresh and salt water) marsh leads to the headwaters of Garland Creek where there is a bald eagle communal roost. These roost sites are comprised of non-breeding birds that gather closely together in what is called a larger "concentration zone" of eagles—just one reason Fones Cliffs are so important. Photo by Bill Portlock/CBF Staff.

 

2
Drake's marsh, a brackish marsh six miles upstream from Fones Cliffs. The cliffs may be seen on the distant left horizon. The dominant wetland plant here is Spartina cynosuroides or Tall Cordgrass. Photo by Bill Portlock/CBF Staff.

 

9
Caspian Terns have a conversation while resting on a submerged log. Caspian Terns are the largest terns in the world and are found on every continent except Antarctica. They are usually only present on the Rappahannock during their spring and fall migration. Photo by Bill Portlock/CBF Staff.

 

3
Aerial view of Luke's Island with expansive miles-long view of Fones Cliffs at the top of the photo. Beverly Marsh across the Rappahannock is home to freshwater wetland plants like wild rice, pickerel weed, arrow arum, smartweeds, and many more important wetland plants. It is considered by wildlife biologists to be among the best black duck marshes in the Commonwealth of Virginia. Photo by Bill Portlock/CBF Staff.

 

6
Canada Geese fly over the Rappahanock River in front of Fones Cliffs on a December day. More than 15,000 wild, migratory Canada Geese like these are regularly observed in annual waterfowl surveys and Christmas Bird Count data from the Rappahannock. Photo by Bill Portlock/CBF Staff.

 

7
A great blue heron stalks prey along a marsh on the Rappahannock. Great blues feed on fish, crustaceans, and even small mammals. The birds nest colonially and are considered partially migratory along the East Coast. It is not unusual to see great blue herons on rivers in the Bay region every month of the year. Photo by Bill Portlock/CBF Staff.

 

8
A view of Fones Cliffs from Carter's Wharf in Richmond County. The public boat launch ramp once served as a stop on the 18th-century steamboat route. Photo by Bill Portlock/CBF Staff.

 

10
Sub adult bald eagle flying along Fones Cliffs. Juvenile, immature bald eagles have brown plumage during their first year. In the second and third years they remain with brown feathers but have irregular white feathers as well, giving a mottled appearance. They attain their unique white head and tail with brown body feathers during their fourth or fifth year. Photo by Bill Portlock/CBF Staff.

Stand with us in protecting this jewel of the Rappahannock. Click here to sign the petition to Save the Eagles, Save Fones Cliffs before the rezoning hearing this Thursday, October 8!

*The part of Fones Cliffs that is owned by the Diatomite Corporation of America.


Fones Cliffs: It Could Be Lost Forever, Part 2

BillPortlockAn aerial view of part of Fones Cliffs along the Rappahannock River in Virginia's Northern Neck. The Diatomite Corporation of America is threatening to develop part of this unspoiled place that is home to one of the most important bald eagle habitats on the East Coast. Photo by Bill Portlock/CBF Staff. 

You've been hearing a lot about Fones Cliffs lately and the potential development that threatens it.* To better understand this untouched place along Virginia's Northern Neck and just how much is at stake, we talked with CBF's Senior Naturalist John Page Williams, who is no stranger to this stretch of the Rappahannock. Williams recounted an experience (originally published on ChesapeakeBoating.net) that he had not so long ago on the river, in this special part of the world:

The combination of fresh and salt water, strong currents, marshes and deep water close to shore gives this part of the river a rich biological community of plants, fish, birds, and mammals. Combine that with fertile floodplain soils, and it is no surprise that this region has served humans well for several thousand years . . .

One element in the appeal of the Bay's upper tidal rivers is that there is something interesting going on at virtually every season of the year. Springtime brings spawning rockfish, white perch, American and hickory shad, catfish, and two species of river herring. In summer, the river's shallows teem with juvenile fish that make its great blue herons and ospreys fat and happy, while the marshes burst with seed-bearing plants like wild rice, rice cut-grass, smartweed, and tearthumb. Fall brings blackbirds and then waterfowl, while the hardwood trees along the river turn to blazing colors. Winter brings concentrations of Canada geese and bald eagles . . .

We rode First Light through the curves at Leedstown and Laytons Landing, which is a steamboat wharf site on the Essex County (south) side. Laytons Landing had been connected by ferry to Leedstown and stayed busy until the highway bridge at Tappahannock was built in the 1930s. Here the Rappahannock opens up into a long, straight reach that extends for four miles down to Fones Cliffs.

I told Jim [Rogers] about an afternoon 15 years earlier, when First Light and I had entered this reach on a clear, calm late-October day. With the sun low behind us, light streamed down the river, illuminating a corridor of blazing yellow, orange, scarlet, and purple colors in the sycamores, maples, sweet gums, and black gums before lighting up the tawny sandstone of the cliffs at the far end. I remember stopping the engine and drifting, drinking in the scene. Partway down the reach, I drifted past an empty osprey platform. As I watched, a mature eagle drifted down out of the sky and perched there. The view was the most stunning I have seen in all my years on the Chesapeake.

And yet for all this beauty and important biodiversity, a short-sighted, Miami-based developer is petitioning to rezone the land so he can turn this unique and fragile site into parking lots, commercial development, and townhomes. On October 8, the Richmond County Board of Supervisors will consider the rezoning request, which means we have just one week to speak out loudly in opposition. Stand with us in protecting this jewel of the Rappahannock. Sign the petition to Save the Eagles, Save Fones Cliffs. Because if lost, it will be lost forever.

—Emmy Nicklin
CBF's Senior Manager of Digital Media

*The part of Fones Cliffs that is owned by the Diatomite Corporation of America.

Learn more about Fones Cliffs and why it's important in our blog series here.


Photo of the Week: It Could Be Lost Forever

Cliff and river by Bill Portlock

All photos by Bill Portlock/CBF Staff. 

Roughly halfway between Port Royal and Tappahannock, along Virginia's Northern Neck in remote Richmond County, an incredible thing happens. Stunning white and yellow bluffs rise up out of the Rappahannock toward piercing blue sky. High above these cliffs bald eagles glide through the air, their extraordinary wings stretched long and strong. In the river below, striped bass, white perch, and other fish spawn each spring. And there in a 17-foot Whaler I stare up, mouth agape.    

EagleBut a large part of this remarkable place, this jewel of the Rappahannock called Fones Cliffs, is at risk. A short-sighted, Miami-based developer is petitioning to rezone the land so he can turn this unique and fragile site into parking lots, commercial development, and townhouses. In fact, the proposed development includes 718 homes, 18 guest cottages, an 18-hole golf course and driving range, 116-room lodge with spa, 150-seat restaurant, a commercial center, a skeet and trap range, an equestrian center with stables for 90 horses, a 10,000-square-foot community barn, and seven piers along the river.

I don't have to tell you that rezoning this site would destroy this unspoiled stretch of the Rappahannock and all the wildlife that call it home. 

Join with us to tell the Richmond County Board of Supervisors we can't let this happen. Sign the petition to Save the Eagles, Save Fones Cliffs.

—Emmy Nicklin
CBF's Senior Manager of Digital Media