Anti-campground signs dot the yards along Belle Plains Road in Stafford County. (photo by Kathy Knotts)

White Oak residents spy trouble with proposed Crow’s Nest campground

by | May 3, 2024 | ALLFFP, Environmental, Outdoors, Stafford

Joni Kanazawa is not anti-camping.

She and her husband Dane love the outdoors, fishing, hunting and enjoying the simple life. What Kanazawa isn’t a fan of is a campground being built on property that surrounds her home in rural White Oak in Stafford County.

The Kanazawas are part of a group of people who’ve joined forces to oppose a proposed campground called “Crow’s Nest Outdoor Adventure” on a 75-acre parcel off Belle Plains Road.   

Neighbors have expressed concerns over safety, traffic and environmental impacts the campground could bring.  

“This proposed 150-unit campground is located on environmentally sensitive and historically significant land. The problems associated with this proposed project are so significant that this project should be carefully considered and rejected,” Kanazawa wrote in a letter to the Stafford Board of Supervisors and Planning Commission.  

Land has a rich history, heritage

The inlet in question has historical and cultural significance, says Jo Ann Meredith, a member of the Patawomeck Tribe, whose family still uses the property at the end of the road for water access for kayaking and fishing. Meredith says the land has been in her family for three or four generations.  

Archaeological evidence suggests Native Americans have inhabited this land for at least 11,000 years. Capt. John Smith and his crew visited the chief of the Patawomeck Tribe here in July of 1608. The chief’s home sat at the confluence of the Potomac and Accokeek Creeks, where they met the Potomac River, so Smith named both the river and the creek for the tribe on the map he published in 1612.  

Potomac Creek has long been recognized as an ancestral landmark for the tribe, and many tribal members still live in this portion of Stafford. There are carp pens in the creeks and a blue heron rookery nearby. Across the water is Crow’s Nest Natural Area Preserve, one of the state’s conservation success stories.  

“We want to raise awareness, but we also want the county and the [Virginia Marine Resources Commission] to take note and listen to our concerns,” Meredith said. “They don’t do a site visit when they look at this. They look at GIS maps and such.”  

“They really lack the context to fully evaluate the impact of the project without visiting this site in person and talking to the community,” added archaeologist Brad Hatch, a White Oak resident and member of the tribe.   

Belle Plains is a part of Civil War history, too. The area was used as a supply point by the Union Army before Grant’s Overland Campaign and held Confederate soldiers in a prison camp called the Punch Bowl.  

A good neighbor?

Several months ago, nearby residents began voicing concerns that landowner Mark McLeod isn’t telling them the whole truth about his plans and is approaching the project in a way that avoids public review and comment.  

McLeod, a pastor at Move Church in Woodbridge, says the development is going to be positive for the community.

“Everyone has their opinions on new development and change is always difficult for people to manage and navigate,” McLeod wrote in an email to the Free Press. “Our hope is that at some point in the near future, once they see how much care we put into preserving and caring for the land we have been entrusted with, that they will see us as a good neighbor and that we are there to make the area better, not worse. We want to compliment the community and be an asset, not a burden.” 

McLeod acknowledged that the initial plan for the property was a residential development. He noted that his family closed on the property in the fall 2021 with the intention of putting in a small subdivision with 11 or 12 homes. 

The proposed campground plans with the Kanazawa property outlined in yellow.

Kanazawa said that she was heartbroken to learn that the property surrounding her home would be developed. “But at least that would have been homes, with families who have a vested interest in this community,” she added.

However, McLeod’s plans changed.  

“The more we drove through the property the more we felt that it should be preserved for families in the surrounding area and beyond to come and enjoy the outdoors and be able to get out on the water and kayak, canoe, paddleboard and fish,” he wrote.  

Nearby Crow’s Nest would be an attraction, said McLeod, and guests could go hiking and enjoy the preserve while staying at the campground across the creek.

‘They’re building a small Kalahari’  

Surrounding landowners claim they were told at first the site would be just for tents, but plans show that the campsites will feature gravel pads, water, electricity and septic hookups — indicating that trailers, campers and RVs would be allowed.  

McLeod did not expressly state if RVs would be permitted but noted that the campground will include “glamping” (luxury camping with amenities) for those who don’t have equipment, plus “two or three luxury bathhouses.”  

“In addition to the campsites, we plan to have several cabins on the water for people to be able to rent also if they are not the camping type,” he wrote. “Our hope is that we can develop the property in such a way that we can give individuals and families an alternative to living in the D.C. metro area and have a place that is designed for them to come and enjoy the outdoors and spend some leisure and quality time together with other people that are there for the same reason.”  

The campground plans also include an office, camp store, laundry room, playground, jumping pillow, gaga ball, tetherball, splash pad, turf hill, a pavilion with gas fire logs, a movie screen, volleyball court, pickleball courts, basketball courts and a pier for fishing, kayaking and canoeing with a boat shed for rentals.  

“It’s like they’re building a small Kalahari here in White Oak,” said Meredith, referring to the large indoor water park under construction in the Thornburg area of neighboring Spotsylvania County. “No one wants that.”  

McLeod also outlined his plans for the “fur kids,” which include a park for small and large dogs with a self-washing station. Phase 2 of the project features plans for a swimming pool and two hot tubs.

None of that convinces residents like Ginny Foreman, who birthed several of her nine children at home in White Oak.

“We’re pretty well invested in this place,” Foreman said. “We have layers upon layers of concern about the campground.”  

A difficult road ahead 

The narrow two-lane highway already poses a challenge for the residents of Belle Plains Road. The road ends at private property, where the Belle Plain Boat Club sits, with nowhere to easily turn around. During the summer, the increased boat traffic down the road can be frustrating, said Kanazawa. Foreman said she dreads teaching her children to drive on the road as it is.  

“I don’t think any of us are anti-development in the sense that if they wanted to put six or eight houses over there, that’s a little bit different in terms of traffic and everything,” Hatch said. “Because people are going to live there, and they are going to get to know the road and how to drive out here. But you’ve got people coming in and out for maybe a weekend — maybe that’s the only time they are ever here — one weekend. It’s going to be dangerous in a lot of ways for the people who live here,” Hatch said.  

The residents cited numerous accidents involving vehicles running into the deep ditches along the road and getting stuck. Mike Silver, whose family owns and operates the 100-year-old Silver Ridge Farm, says that moving wide farm equipment on Belle Plain Road is tricky enough, that he can’t fathom a line of RVs trying to navigate it.

“We’ve had two spray rigs driven into the ditch in the past three years,” he said. “There are real issues about putting RVs or fifth-wheels on this road.”  

Silver said that while the farm has been in the area for 100 years, there are families of watermen who have been there even longer.  

“There’s 25 generational families that are commercial [sic] licensed watermen coming out of this creek to make their living,” he said. “Then we saw the plans for the dock.”  

Dock development 

Because it’s a by-right development, neighbors admit that there’s not much that can stop the campground. So the group, which is loosely organized on Facebook and includes the support of the Belle Plain Boat Club and members of the Patawomeck Tribe — is targeting the dock permits McLeod has applied for.  

“My dad and a bunch of watermen and locals fought a 1,000-foot dock at Potomac Creek Estates about 28 years ago,” Silver said. “It’s a lot of the same issues… so now as we come in 28-30 years later, I think we have an appreciation for the environment a little bit more.”  

The dock project includes a boardwalk through the marsh, a pier over the water, and three platforms including a deck, a partially-covered platform for kayak and canoe storage plus a covered pavilion.  

An illustration of the completed proposed campground. (Courtesy of Mark McLeod)

Forty-one acres of the proposed campground are wetlands, which are designated a Resource Protection Area by the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality and cannot be developed.

“We are totally aware of the need to protect the wetlands and intend to do everything we can to have as little disturbance as possible,” McLeod wrote. “There are docks and piers all up and down Potomac Creek that were constructed with the same care and intention that ours will be constructed. A large portion of the pier will go across the marshland in order to be able to get to the water. The marshland that we will be going across is a part of our deeded land.”  

McLeod says the contractor will be building the pier across the marsh by hand, to “disturb as little of the marsh area as possible instead of doing it with equipment that would cause more of a disturbance.”  

The neighbors think it’s an invitation for more motorized boats and visitors in an already-sensitive area “serving hundreds of people going out into the middle of the marsh and Potomac Creek with boats, kayaks, and noisy jet skis that chase wildlife away,” Kanazawa said. “This is completely unacceptable if we are to preserve this unique and environmentally sensitive area for future generations.”  

Because the dock will extend over tidal wetlands, known as Big Marsh, the plans first must be approved by the VMRC. Those both for and against the project are commenting on the application by the dozens.  

The neighbors are concerned that McLeod is solely motivated by money.

“What does the county have to gain? What do we as residents of this area have to gain?” Foreman said. “Well, nothing really. Because not everything is about money or money for the county. What do we ultimately lose? We potentially lose this ecosystem and I don’t think that’s an exaggeration.”  

“Of course, we would love to have the support of the neighbors and the White Oak community, McLeod wrote.  “At this time, the climate is too hostile to try and have a conversation.”

The neighbors say they aren’t giving up the fight and claim they’ve begun receiving support beyond the neighborhood.

“People not only know the impact that this will have on the immediate White Oak community, but beyond that — the wetlands can not be replaced,” Kanazawa said. “They fought so hard for Crow’s Nest, to keep it pristine. I can’t imagine what would happen if the vegetation and aquatic life on this side of the creek was threatened.”  

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