Seaside Walkway Dedication

Seaside Walkway Dedication
Posted on 11/06/2020

A compilation video of excerpts from speeches given at the Seaside Walkway Dedication on November 2, 2020.  

On November 2, 2020, a small gathering came out on a cold, windy day to celebrate the official dedication ceremony of the newly renovated Seaside Walkway at Northampton County Preserve. The gathering was intentionally kept small due to pandemic concerns.

The Northampton Preserve is north of the landfill and is on land that was once going to be used for expansion of landfill operations. But in 2003  there were plans to close the landfill and it was decided the property would be better used as a park. 

According to an article written in 2004 by Pat Smith for Virginia Coastal Management Summer/Fall 2003 Issue titled, Seaside Program Highlight: Increasing Public Access , “Over 200 acres were purchased to use as a landfill in the 1970’s. After using about 40 acres for landfill activities, the county resolved to close its landfill, restore the property, and return the land to the people and visitors of Northampton County for ecotourism and recreation… The county has plans for trails around the lake, up on top of the closed landfill overlooking the Barrier Islands, and through the woods to the marsh. The Coastal Program is funding construction of the first nature trail, through the woods to the marsh. Plans are to make the trail wheelchair & stroller friendly, and provide some protection from ticks and snakes for casual birdwatchers, walkers, sightseers, and classes, by providing a boardwalk.”

Laura McKay, Program Manager for Virginia Coastal Zone Management Program (CZM), stated at the dedication ceremony, “We started this boardwalk in 2004 when we first built it and there was a big plan for the whole landfill that was being closed and there was going to be all sorts of things happening. I guess I’m over enthusiastic at times but I jumped in saying, ‘Yeah, we’ll do a boardwalk!’”

The boardwalk winds through a forest of mostly loblolly pines. Over time the pine shatter eroded the boards and the walk became unsafe to use. Birders have been flocking to the area to take in the variety of migrating birds because the Preserve is prime migratory habitat. It was the enthusiasm of members of Birding Eastern Shore who revived the idea of restoring the walkway for public access.

The dedication gathering was organized by Martina Coker, a member of Birding Eastern Shore, a Master Naturalist and an outstanding citizen of Northampton County. Martina volunteered much of her time and labor, along with her husband John Coker, Board of Supervisor for District 1.  It was their passion for the project that was the backbone of seeing the project to completion. County Administrator, Charles Kolakowski said Mrs. Coker, “has really been its focus and has kept (the project) together. She really helped coordinate and reached out to a lot of people.”

Many others worked alongside the Cokers to restore the property and walkway for public use. “It’s always a team effort,” said Laura Mckay whose organization Virginia Coastal Zone Management Program at the Department of Environmental Quality gave $20,000 grant to restore the boardwalk along with funds from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, Office of Coastal Management. “Here’s all your hard work to make it happen,” said McKay. “I certainly couldn’t do it alone from Richmond- so it took all of you. It’s so heartwarming to know that this is here now and it’s not lost or abandoned. And it’s just going to tie in so well with some additional grants we’re giving to the Planning District and the Virginia Water website. And also, the project we did with The Nature Conservancy and Planning District, Explore Our Seaside. So, having the boardwalk in place here and in good condition is helping to make that whole big comprehensive effort happen.” McKay also spoke about future plans for funds to be used over the next three years “to promote rural coastal Virginia with paddling, nature trails, birdwatching, oyster trails, all these good things.”

The labor costs for renovating the boardwalk was kept to a minimum thanks to the Northampton County Public Works Department. “I want to give a lot of credit to Chris Thomas, our Public Works Director, for the work that he and his employees did on making this happen,” said County Administrator, Charles Kolakowski. “They really said, ‘Hey. You know what? We can do this. We can step up; we can help and we can make this happen.' And all of the sudden by removing the part of the labor cost for this project, they brought it down to something we can do.”

Appreciation was also given to the many volunteers who pitched in to rebuild the walkway and clear the grass paths.
“I want to thank Ronald Rowe and the landfill folks for helping maintain this pathway coming back here and really assisting us throughout the entire process,” continued Kolakowski. “I want to give some thanks to the Board of Supervisors who have been very supportive of this project; who encouraged the staff and helped supplement the funds that were available to make this happen.”

John Coker, Board of Supervisor for District 1 and a member of the Northampton Tourism Committee discussed the importance of County infrastructure for its citizens and for tourism which is a large part of the County economy. Monies have been granted by the Northampton Tourism Committee to add an observation blind on the north side of the pond which will be beneficial to our burgeoning birdwatcher tourism.

All the hard work to restore the seaside walkway will not be neglected again. The maintenance of the boardwalk will be assisted by the Eastern Shore Master Naturalists who spend hundreds of volunteer hours each year to help maintain Natural Area Preserves including the four on the Eastern Shore. Barbara O’Hare of the Eastern Shore Master Naturalists stated, “We have been very happy to be involved with all the organizations to help rehabilitate this boardwalk…This is a wonderful effort. We are also very happy that the Master Naturalist will help maintain the trail as volunteer stewards.”

Dot Field, Eastern Shore Regional Steward of the Department of Conservation and Recreation, spoke about how to get others to care about conservation by preserving natural places and opening them up to the public to experience a connection with Nature. "The importance of public access to people, to me, is that the only way you can get somebody to appreciate what they have in their backyard or get into the conservation state of mind is to have them actually see these places," she said.

Education is also a large part of getting people to care about the place they live. Interpretive signage was provided by The Nature Conservancy as part of their larger campaign, Explore Our Seaside, which aims to give people more information about the plants and animals they might encounter on their foray into these wild places.

Lastly, educator Bill Dyas, described the type of projects that can be taught to our students, including virtual field trips that will help them learn about the animals and plants and ecosystems of where they live. And hopefully it will create a future of conservation stewards.

Thank you to everyone who had a part in completing this project and who will continue to maintain and take care of this Northampton County asset.

Virginia Coastal Zone Management Program/NOAA

Department of Conservation and Recreation

Eastern Shore of Virginia Birding and Wildlife Programs Inc

The Nature Conservancy 

Virginia Master Naturalist, Eastern Shore Chapter 

Northampton County, Virginia
Administrative staff
•Public Works
•Sanitary Landfill staff

For more information and directions visit the Seaside Walkway page on this website. 

Jean Flynn
Website Content Coordinator
Northampton County, VA