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Mace & Crown | April 26, 2018

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Hampton Roads is like a yard sale: it’s sprawling, disorganized and random, but if you look hard enough, you can usually find some hidden treasures that fit the limited budget of a college student.

A good number of Old Dominion University students are not originally from here, and many natives, like myself, have never fully explored or appreciated the many charms of Hampton Roads. With that in mind, I’ve set out to experience as many hidden treasures as I can, and hope to discover the best of what our city has to offer.

Considering the nice weather recently, it was time to get the family out of the house. I’ve been hearing about the Weyanoke wildlife preserve for some time now, and my wife, hippie that she is, has been dying to check it out. It’s probably the one set of trails in Hampton Roads that we haven’t yet explored.

We ran into an issue the first time we went; it was a Friday afternoon, and the park is only open on Saturdays and Sundays. So we tried again the next day.

Nestled away in a quiet corner of Norfolk, the Weyanoke Bird and Wildflower Sanctuary is tucked in between the neighborhood of West Ghent and the Norfolk Southern Railroad company, only a few short miles down Hampton Boulevard across ODU.

The land became a sanctuary in 1979, when Norfolk residents found a rare tropical bird in the creek bordering the area. They approached the CEO of Western Railroad (which was later purchased by Norfolk Southern) about preserving the area as a sanctuary. The CEO agreed, and the land was given to the Cape Henry Audobon Society, a local group dedicated to preserving natural ecosystems.

Since then, the preserve has been maintained by the CHAS and the volunteers from Norfolk Master Gardeners., Along with help from local churches, schools and Boy Scout troops. The Virginia Society of Ornithology also sponsors a rare bird alert system for the park.

Although my wife is a biologist, we’re more of the “commune with nature” types, not the hardcore, hide-in-a-bush-with-binoculars bird watchers. I wouldn’t know a red-footed boobie from a white-breasted nuthatch (who named these things?), so perhaps some of the wonders of this park were lost on us. From what I understand, this is a popular rest stop for rare migratory birds.

The rest of the park is quite beautiful. My wife frolicked barefoot through the ivy (luckily, none that we saw was poison), picking flowers for some art project that she has in mind. Meanwhile, I tried not to drop our son every time a bee flew into my face.

A creek flows down one side of the park, replete with small fish, frog, and other aquatic wildlife. We also spotted a few small lizards, which my wife identified as skinks. She spent a few minutes poking and prodding a small green garden snake that was too slow to escape her clutches.

That was pretty much it for the wildlife. Don’t expect to see any large critters, like the wild horses at Back Bay or the feral pigs that have been plaguing the more rural areas of Chesapeake and Virginia Beach; there’s a chain-link fence surrounding the property.

There’s an elevated observation deck near the creek, far enough back that you can’t really hear the sounds of the roads or the neighborhood anymore. It’s a nice place to relax, listen to the sounds of the birds, and feel the breeze. If I’d had a six pack, I would have been content to stay there all day.

Unfortunately, the park is a little small. Not counting the relaxation time on the deck, we had walked the whole place in about half an hour and we were taking our time.

Across the street from the sanctuary, there’s an ordinary neighborhood park.  It would be a perfect spot to take a dog for a little exercise. Maybe take a walk through Weyanoke (I didn’t see anything saying dogs weren’t allowed), then throw a ball in the field for a while to really wear him out.

If you’re a nature lover, or just want to get out of the city for a little while, without driving very far, I recommend checking out Weyanoke. And maybe, if you’re lucky, you’ll spot a hairy woodpecker (seriously?).

David Thornton

Staff Writer