Even for a land trust, it isn’t every day someone offers you a gift of an island, let alone three. In early November, the Capital Region Land Conservancy received just such an overture from Joan Cowan proposing a donation of Grape Island, Hyde Island, and Watson Glenn Island in the Appomattox River in southern Chesterfield County.
CRLC’s staff and Board of Directors acted swiftly in the waning days of 2018 to take ownership of this property in the portion of the Appomattox River designated as a state scenic river since 1977. By the time the new year had begun, significant due diligence and the transfer of the islands to CRLC’s ownership were complete. In working with both Chesterfield County and another local nonprofit, Friends of the Lower Appomattox (FOLAR), CRLC was able to plan for the islands’ future. The change in ownership and the eventual public accessibility of the islands align with the Appomattox River Trail master plan FOLAR drafted in 2017.
“We were pleased to facilitate the connection between Mrs. Cowan, CRLC, and Chesterfield County as part of our mission to conserve and protect the Appomattox River for all to enjoy,” said Wendy Austin, FOLAR Executive Director. “We look forward to future opportunities to work together with CRLC to benefit the health of the river and our communities.”
The cluster of small, forested isles lies down river from Brasfield Dam and the Lake Chesdin Reservoir and total about nine and a half acres. The islands are visible from the southeastern side of the river from the wheelchair accessible Lower Appomattox River Trail System that runs from Ferndale Appomattox Riverside Park in Dinwiddie County to the west for a mile and a half along a historic canal tow path. On the northeastern side of the river, the islands are in close proximity to the 87-acre John J. Radcliffe Conservation Area and its canoe/kayak launch about a mile upriver in Chesterfield County. The protection of these islands therefore has great scenic value for visitors on the water as well as those who may never step foot on or paddle by the islands.
The magic attendant to islands, associated in the imagination and the arts with a sense of retreat and exploration, inspired the gift from their former owner and donor Mrs. Cowan who noted the many adventures they afforded family and friends while also allowing her “… to escape from all of the world for a week of peace and quiet while on my own little oasis … painting the peaceful settings of nature.” It is Mrs. Cowan’s wish that the islands be available to the public for their own respite and enjoyment without damage to their natural resources and no hunting of the resident wildlife.
Though the islands will not be open to the public during the time they are in CRLC’s ownership, CRLC is working to transfer them to Chesterfield County’s Department of Parks and Recreation so future nature lovers will be free to make any of the islands a stop on their excursions through a section of the river notable for its sense of remoteness. Chesterfield County Board of Supervisors’ member Steve Elswick said, “Every community has places of importance to them that deserve protection. It’s this part of our region that is particularly special to me and those in the Matoaca district that celebrate our river. We thank CRLC for working to preserve these islands and the many opportunities they afford us now and in the future.”