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Protecting Coastal Communities: The Delmarva Peninsula and Lower Eastern Shore of Virginia

Updated: Apr 28

Finding the balance between environmental preservation and the need for development to spur economic growth

*visit underlined statements in blue to read additional sources

**tool for residents of the lower Eastern Shore to look up land parcels :https://jmp.sh/KJNNw9ML

Josephine Wright, the 94-year-old woman who had been battling the Town of Hilton Head Island to keep the home her family has owned since the Civil War, passed away. See more below.



There is a great need for balance in communities, something I’ve learned from interviewing various members of the community nationwide and abroad including Marc Edwards, a world-leading Researcher from Virginia Tech,  Dr. Veronica Womack, executive director of the Rural Institute Studies of Georgia College and State and Ava Gabrielle Wise former UN member, CEO/President at United States Sustainable Development Corp & founder of New Road Community Development, licensed clinical psychologist and court advocate Dr. Gerald Boyd of ESTACI (Eastern Shore Training and Consulting Inc.)   Particularly for any ecosystem, a sustainable approach to community development, especially after extensive housing studies are conducted, such as the Eastern Shore of Virginia Regional Housing Study reported in March of 2022 (https://www.esvaplan.org/wp-content/uploads/2022/04/Housing-Study-w-Appendices-4.18.22-pdf.pdf) by Accomack-Northampton Planning District Commission.


Matrix for RFP board determining housing study researcher for 2022 comprehensive study, environmental impact a "bonus"


Reverend Alice speaks to the H20 Project at Lemontree Gallery in Cape Charles ,VA in 2020 about her experience with activism advocating for her community in Northampton County as well as her experience volunteering abroad in Africa



In retrospect, it would be wonderful to implement some philosophies of Partnership for Smarter Growth, a non-profit located in Richmond, Va.    PSG (https://www.psgrichmond.org) strives to implement walkable communities and emphasizes the importance of cultural history & preservation, intelligent development, and renovating old spaces instead of constantly building new ones from scratch.    Community members need to be aware of the metrics housing studies use to assess their assets, some have different intentions despite a broad scope at a glance.    Many studies are used to attract developers, while others are used to help existing members of the community improve their circumstances.  


Photo of Cape Charles Beach, a popular tourist spot put on the map, especially after an HGTV special about coastal living in 2019. Taken by Clelia Jane Sheppard


The two intentions are not mutually exclusive, one does not stamp out the other.   What needs to be kept in mind is a Land Ethic. In a land ethic, the relationships between people and land are intertwined; care for people cannot be separated from care for the land. Thus, a land ethic is a moral code of conduct that stems from these interconnected caring relationships. Every time someone clears out a space for development, millions of little ecosystems are disrupted, from visible creatures we all recognize like the Eastern Gray Fox,  Sika Deer (from Asia) found on Assateague Island and tidal wetlands, Virginia Whitetails, Eastern cottontail,  Monarch butterflies, Osprey and Bald Eagles to insect colonies and minute bacteria that are the “gut” of any ecosystem.    


The elusive whitetail buck, now shot yearly at a ritual sacrifice by local hunters at Kiptopeke State Park, federally supported.


Public lands at Kiptopeke State Park and adjacent Refuge meant for nature, are closed off annually for "Deer Management" to control car accidents on Lankford Highway and backroads due to the "out of control" deer population. Photo submitted anonymously to The H20 Project by reader in Fall of 2023.



Yellow-billed Cuckoo, one of many songbirds who use the Eastern Shore of Virginia as a migratory rest stop. The spring arrival timing of migratory species that nest on the refuge-Common Yellowthroat, Indigo Bunting, Orchard Oriolo, Blue Grosbeak, Yellow-billed Cuckoo, Summer Tanager, Prarier Warbler, Yellow-breasted Chat-is typically later than in, for instance, Suffolk, Virginia, even by 10-12 days


Thousands of birds flock as sunset approaches over the wetlands by Hogg Island



Development without the best intentions in mind of preserving a community that attracts tourism based on its “beauty” and “nature” (famous campaign for the Eastern Shore of Virginia “You’ll love our nature”)  can wreak havoc on the very “dream” people want to experience, which became a dream because it was not experienced for so long.


Pristine tidal wetlands, no waterfront property for miles and miles


I imagine what my hometown on the Eastern Shore of Virginia must have looked like 9500 years ago when Native Americans first roamed the area in peaceful uninterrupted harmony, something  learned from “History of the Virginia Oyster Fishery, Chesapeake Bay, USA” published by David M. Schulte (https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fmars.2017.00127/full) of the Department of Fisheries, College of William and Mary, Virginia Institute of Marine Science, Gloucester, VA, USA


Real estate aerial view of Cape Charles Beach, now artificially propped due to millions spent in sand sculpting/replenishment of dunes to achieve "natural" look



Sign on dock of Cape Charles Harbour, overlooking Bayshore Concrete Facility, which provides jobs to locals and spurred irate reactions from newcomers and environmental activists alike for the smattering of concrete dust that hit beach goers from across the harbour



Eastern Shore Natives dancing together on Cape Charles beach road before tourist initiatives began (Pre-Bay Creek, pre "You'll love our Nature" sign on Chesapeake Bay Bridge Tunnel approaching Shore side of toll booths in early 2000s, before the proliferation of social media advertising)


The unique landscape of The Shore is a source of inspiration for Artists, photographers, woodworkers and other artisanal creations/creators. If local residents, researchers, and activists do not pay attention, this unique harmony will be disturbed in coming decades to the point that what makes this area unique, its nature and beauty, will be irreversibly damaged. Photo taken by Clelia Jane Sheppard, "Maiden of the Sea" in Cheriton, Virginia.



Bay Creek, founded in 2001 by Richard "Dickie" Foster and acuired by Bay Creek Development LLC in 2019 is a popular retirement spot for residents from Northern Virginia, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and New York. Residents expect a pristine carefully landscaped aesthetic so endemic to the Golf Course "formula" and "uniform" design. Unfortunately, with each newly manicured property comes a plethora of routines to maintain such detailed landscaping including viral loads of RoundUp and other potentially harmful pesticides and chemical blockers of unwanted weeds, which are natural to the area and promote bee population and natural habitat balance. These potent chemicals then accumulate over time in the groundwater basins and runoff to the Bay, leading to eutrophication, algal blooms, and bacteria overloads. These types of problems occur throughout the United States, including in Florida (red tide blooms). Furthermore, the amplification of beaches without ample vegetation restoration (with rock barriers alone) creates a scalloping effect in the coastal region. The impact on wildlife and coastal estuary integrity is not yet fully known. Each rock "breaker" barrier can cost up to $200,000 and are often constructed in this region by contractors such as Dilly Construction. While many see golf courses as a haven for wildlife, their upkeep and maintenance often require elements that are the antithesis of environmentally friendly, see "golf courses and environmental issues" for more information. From groundwater pollution caused by fertilizers and pesticides to loss of natural habitats and wetlands, the concerns are great.


Tourists love consuming shellfish, a draw to coastal regions. However with an industry shelling out $40 million worth of oysters alone annually, accidents down the food chain preparation line do happen. High demand creates stressful supply conditions. Newspaper clip from The Virginian-Pilot, Summer of 2023.




It is also important for newcomers and developers coming to the area to remember the unique history of each rural community, in this example the Eastern Shore of Virginia.    Already reports (see in discussion page under “Public” on the website of The H20 Project) where trailer homes and lower-income areas may be dismantled for large-scale high end development to occur. 





  How can communities ensure that people’s needs are met and history is preserved?  Many people have lived here for generations, the sad outcome for people rooted in an area is the potential displacement from newcomers clamoring to escape their busy city lives to get a taste of the salt life, especially in their retirement years.


Housing communities are popping up like mushrooms, real estate agents are having a field day selling out the Shore.



Real estate agents tell them with confident assurance: don’t worry there’s beach access, perhaps referring to an off-the-beaten path that seems exclusive and private when in fact it is part of a wildlife preserve and needs a “Leave no Trace” / “Do Not Disturb” sign on the front door.  Newcomers not aware of the endangered Tiger Beetle or the nesting homes of rare Eastern Foxes birthing cubs.


Brings new light to the Virginia slogan "Don't tread on me"


Fox cubs, who lay low to survive as they mature in the shrubbery and foliage of dunes and woodlands in coastal regions


Photo of Brown Pelican, endangered species, silhouette at Concrete Ships, taken by Clelia Jane Sheppard in kayak.



Cape Charles Beach, photo by Clelia Jane Sheppard



Tidal marshes and secluded walkways in natural preserves scattered throughout the Eastern Shore of Virginia and Maryland often referred to broadly as The Delmarva Peninsula


  1-2 people is fine, but can these quiet natural areas handle a volume of people that extends to the 100s?  One house overlooking the water is fine 30 years ago, what will happen to the miles of shoreline on the bayside of the Eastern Shore when every home owner individualizes their approach to erosion?  In one segment, the consequence is further erosion.   If one house is placing rocks, another is adding sand, another is adding wooden bulkheads, the ending result in a decade is a zig zagged unwalkable beach with no shoreline, rising water levels, lack of natural vegetation which prevents erosion and a destroyed habitat.


Every time a new plot of land is scoured for development, ecosystems that may seem invisible to the untrained eye, or uncaring eye, get destroyed...some too microscopic to see but no less important in the grand web of biodiversity so necessary for a unique region such as the Delmarva Peninsula to thrive



Areas of value, photo by Clelia Jane Sheppard


Basket local watermen use for bushels of crabs, often wash up ashore where artists then take the wooden basket base and paint them for art ware and storytelling


  What draws people to places like this along the coast is the quiet, the quiet will not exist if too much land is sold with zoning clauses that are too lax.     Do they know about The Chair Place in Craddockville, that the Wilkin's family was here for 5+ generations (sign on Savage Neck Rd.), that Moses Restaurant was a beaming cultural center in the hamlet of "Cheapside", a historically black neighborhood, or the artwork of the late Mama Girl, a talented African American Artist whose colorful paintings tell a rich history of the quiet pristine agricultural/aquaculture community of The Shore that belongs to families, not the vested interests of land developers and corporate interest. There is a need to revitalize this network of towns that dotted the railroad pathway, restoring abandoned establishments to promote cultural sensitivity and preservation of history, coupled with a land ethic. It would serve as a visual reminder of mindfulness to present residents and visitors that history has ripple effects throughout time. If it is erased, no one will remember or respect the efforts and values of previous generations-some philosophies and attitudes are worth resharing. Similar to how my Grandmother, a survivor of air raids in Great Britain reminded her family to recycle and use less, and to ration goods due to unforeseen shortages she experienced as a young woman during World War II. Epigenetically embedded.


Many local watermen get injured on the job and insurance does not often cover the medical bills


Kiptopeke State Park fish cleaning station, where commercial watermen and campers alike can clean their catch of the day overlooking beautiful vistas of the bay. Photo taken by Clelia Jane Sheppard


Smith Beach in Winter, photo by Clelia Jane Sheppard


View overlooking water, taken at Saxis Island, photo by Clelia Jane Sheppard


Fishing net poles, photo by Clelia Jane Sheppard


Tidal coastland view of the marshes near Horsehead Trail, in Cheriton, photo by Clelia Jane Sheppard



Watermen who've accessed various local harbours for decades now find themselves blocked from areas reassigned as privately owned, facing higher usage fees. The Cape Charles Harbour started ousting local watermen out as recently as 7 years ago, according to Facebook posts by watermen such as Scott Wivell. Plans for a luxury yacht center have already unfolded.


Cape Charles Harbour, photo by Clelia Jane Sheppard



Advertisements "for a quaint and quiet town by the bay" will be a snippet of history as sizeable investment spars with historic preservation for a seat in the town narrative. Who paints the picture is the holder of the SEO settings and paid online marketing.


Quote by the Land Ethic auteur Aldo Leopold, considered by many to be the father of wildlife ecology and modern conservation. Leopold was a forester, philosopher, conservationist, educator, writer and outdoor enthusiast.




There is a need for economic growth in rural areas to provide housing and jobs to members of communities, Hampton Roads right across the water states the need for a housing trust in order to protect future generations who need affordable housing (https://www.pilotonline.com/2024/03/14/norfolks-shortage-of-affordable-housing-is-growing-study-recommends-trust-fund/). Reporter Trevor Metcalfe speaks about more established family units not wanting to downsize in Hampton Roads, a more densely populated region with a similar ecological habitat to the Eastern Shore of Virginia. Many uncomfortable truths are faced when addressing environmental and social issues, sometimes leading to a feeling of powerlessness or "Well I recycle my pizza box so that should be enough!", sometimes people are not aware of the immense battle between private interests, local governments, corporate interest, wealth gap divide and the tension that ensues and the battle for environmental preservation, all raging on at one point or another and indelibly interconnected.



Josephine Wright's family lineage owned property since the Civil War, with roots to the Gullah Geechee people, descendants of enslaved Africans on the lower Atlantic coast who formed Creole culture and language



Josephine Wright fought a battle against a development company bullying her in her older age to leave property her family attained over a century ago.

She passed away recently at the age of 94 and posthumously won a settlement over Black ancestral land. Josephine Wright, a Hilton Head Island resident spent her last days fighting to protect her family's ancestral South Carolina home from being taken by developers.   Similarly, in Virginia Beach, a 93-year-old Korean Water Veteran was forced out of his apartment at the intersection of Starfish Rd and Ocean Drive for a high-rise development housing luxury retirement villas.   We must respect all members of communities, displacing people by force at any age is wrong, but especially in their 90s and with veteran status, of all kinds of wars both cultural and military. There are many non-profits and individuals fighting to enact these measures to protect displaced people and members of our ecosystem, but sometimes they don't win, see "NoWetlands VB" site for more details on community action efforts. (https://sites.google.com/view/saveredbridge/)


Flip-phone "dumbphone" picture by Clelia Jane Sheppard at Magothie Bay landing, circa 2015


It is important to note that certain members of our communities may not have the technology to respond to “web surveys” and outreach efforts by housing authorities and professionals who study community sustainability and development due to barriers such as not having a laptop or smartphone.    Members of migrant camps, some of whom prop the entire seafood industry working at $2 per hour may not have the tools necessary to speak up for themselves and request help.   Although many outreach efforts exist and social organizations do their best, it is important to find people who have been left behind and help them attain proper help.    One gentleman in particular remains in the same situation of lacking adequate care and sustenance, despite multiple agencies notified. These acts of injustice cannot go on, including against the elderly and those who may not be able to fully advocate for themselves.


Photo of eroding bluff and crumbling walkway near Chesapeake Bay Bridge tunnel, strip of 5-mile shoreline expanse experiencing extreme erosion. Many newcomers and long-term residents alike refuse to fix preexisting stairs for proper beach access structures due to the cost of lumber and labor (that would cost $40,000!) so they can use alternative beach access points instead, which causes erosion due to foot traffic in vulnerable sandy soil ripped of protective riparian vegetation, due to human activity. Taken by Clelia Jane Sheppard.


Residents on Butlers Bluff near public beach entrance (set of stairs pictured on left of giant Barn House on hill) fail to take action to restore stairs, instead opting to create a trail in an area nearby that is not suited for human foot traffic, especially enough to accommodate an entire neighborhood bursting with growth and new construction.



A popular destination for building homes, once quiet and full of nature and wildlife, is the Butlers Bluff neighborhood. The beach heading north is now un-walkable due to strategies for beach fortification that are not effective long-term and clash with one another. The park down the road is spending a fortune adding sand, and fortifying their beach entrance while residents maintain rock bulwarks and wooden bulkheads, carving out pockets of beach just in front of their property. The grand scheme effect is areas that are constantly flooded, disrupting deer migration. The late Dr. Renato Cardano predicted before his death that the beach would not exist due to residents failing to restore natural vegetation, a belief he enacted by restoring any erosion the building of his house in the late 80s may have caused, studying the natural flora and fauna and working in harmony with them to mitigate the harm caused by building near a beach dune. Unfortunately such measures take time and investment, something many are unwilling to participate in for one reason or another.


The same restorative ethic is demanded of Mining companies who strip the earth to fuel our technology needs on a global scale, many legal battles have been fought over insisting the full extent of environmental damage is restored once a project is completed- often replenished at a paltry or nonexistent bare minimum level by companies leaving a work site. Please read mountaintop removal "Voice of Appalachia" for more information: https://appvoices.org/end-mountaintop-removal/mtr101/, https://ir.law.utk.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1381&context=utklaw_facpubs, and "when mining a century’s worth of energy means ruining a landscape for millions of years" https://www.theatlantic.com/technology/archive/2016/03/the-violent-remaking-of-appalachia/474603/




Zebra Mussels, an invasive species, are dreaded by coastal and communities surrounded by water systems for their ability to proliferate and take over native ecosystems (similar to Bamboo).


Perhaps a helpful exercise for those new to the idea of conservation and preservation is to assume a similar role as humans. To not take personal offense to the idea that much like Zebra Mussels, human needs can decimate an area like locusts. To some flora and fauna, we are the invasive species.


Zebra mussels washed up on shore. They also latch onto boat hulls and attach to harbor infrastructure when vessels return to shore. They are an invasive, fingernail-sized mollusk that is native to fresh waters in Eurasia. Their name comes from the dark, zig-zagged stripes on each shell. Zebra mussels probably arrived in the Great Lakes in the 1980s via ballast water that was discharged by large ships. They have spread rapidly throughout the Great Lakes region and into the large rivers of the eastern Mississippi drainage. They have also been found in Texas, Colorado, Utah, Nevada, and California. Zebra mussels negatively impact ecosystems in many ways. They filter out algae that native species need for food and they attach to--and incapacitate--native mussels. Power plants must also spend millions of dollars removing zebra mussels from clogged water intakes. Thankfully, they have not established a presence in Virginia except in one Quarry pond in 2003.


Tributaries are the blood vessels and capillaries of nature providing nutrients to land masses and their co-inhabitants throughout our planet. Distance in proximity does not suggest a lack of connectivity. Photo taken by Clelia Jane Sheppard.




An environmental ethic goes hand in hand with a community, to give voice to the voiceless, which is the right thing to do in any context.   If we leave members of our community behind or ignore the delicate ecosystem of a coastal community such as the Delmarva Peninsula, the consequences will fall upon future generations.     It takes discernment, care, perseverance and energy to address these concerns cohesively: communication is key and so is experience. As the Virginia Eastern Shore Land Trust states, conservation is a good investment.




Photo by Clelia Jane Sheppard, Chesapeake Bay Bridge-Tunnel, remniscent of a mother earth spirit.




Those who contemplate the beauty of the Earth find reserves of strength that will endure as long as life lasts
-Rachel Carson


There are not too many Eastern Shore of Virginias on the East Coast of the United States. The truth is, in an opportunistic frenzy-its easy to see endless potential for lucrative deals related to housing and development. However, it is not so easy to replenish or restore what is excavated for human need. Everything we do is interconnected. Nitrates from split molecues of lightning pour downwind thousands of miles south towards the Kalahari Desert to the Okavango Delta during flood season in Botswana, Africa, making it teem with life. Phosphates from African wildfires once flood season is over fuel life halfway across the world in the Amazon Rainforest. If the big cat Jaguar in the Amazon rainforest was decimated, an apex predator, leafcutter ants would take over and destroy the rainforest. If the jaguar did not kill the Caimen, the rotting corpse would not provide nutrients for fungal networks (which talk to one another) and provide warnings to vegetation and habitats. Mycorrhizal (fungal) networks, if laid side by side, would expand past the solar system. The giant Brazil Nut Tree in the Amazon, living hundreds of years, even in its last year of life, provides nutrients to the saplings around her to ensure her community lives on-a last selfless act. These are important reminders that we are part of a vast network of interconnected ecosystems, and to be mindful about our presence on Planet Earth.





The ephemeral delicacy of nature

The poetry of the earth is never dead

When all the trees have been cut down, when all the animals have been hunted, when all the waters are polluted when all the air is unsafe to breathe, only then will you discover you cannot eat money.


Quadtych of Deer Buried in Sand, photos taken by Clelia Jane Sheppard









The psychology of an environmentalist requires Buddhist detachment, Christian evangelism and Native American empathy/compassion/respect.

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