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Keeping it Wild

By Dr. Peter Brookes

From the ocean, rivers and streams to the plains, hills and mountains, we’re truly blessed here in Virginia with so many great wild and green places to hike, hunt, fish and commune with nature.

The challenge, of course, is keeping it wild.

As a big-time outdoor enthusiast myself with a desk job in the big city, I can’t even imagine not being able to get away from my suburban/urban life to hunt, fish, hike or view wildlife in my free time.

I haven’t taken a scientific poll but I’m pretty sure I’m not alone in that sentiment among Virginians, judging purely by the sometimes overflowing parking lots at lakes, rivers, trailheads and parks on the weekends.

I’m the type who can’t wait for the spring to come so I can go out on the front porch of our Shenandoah Valley cabin in the early morning just to see if I can hear a big Eastern turkey gobble somewhere on the mountainside.

My spring just isn’t complete without it.

I marveled at a turkey hen raising four poults last year, teaching them to pick and scratch for bugs in the grass and jump for wild berries in our cabin’s yard. The only one without a smile on their face at the sight was our chocolate lab, Bo, who desperately wanted to give chase.

My goodness, if any one of the Brookes Bunch happens to catch a  glimpse of a black bear, especially a sow with some cubs, it’s a snapshot we can’t wait to take or a story we can’t wait to tell to each other— and our town and country neighbors.

If there is a car stopped inexplicably on a country road in Virginia, you can be sure someone has their eyes on a black bear.  It can cause a D.C.-like traffic jam until the usually-shy creature high tails it out of there for more comfortable ground.

And who doesn’t at least do a double-take, straining their eyes to see if that really is an honest-to-goodness bald eagle, sitting on that tree branch scanning the Potomac River below for its next fishy meal?

The point is that sightings like this—of turkey, bears and eagles— weren’t always so common years ago before efforts at wildlife conservation took root in Virginia and across the country.  Thankfully, we had the foresight to do so.

As a die-hard fly angler, I relish the chance each spring to “wader-up” and hit the Rappahannock River for a chance at landing some American and Hickory shad, striped bass and white perch.

And in the summer, who can beat floating and fishing the Shenandoah or James River in a kayak or a boat for a shot at hooking some of the Old Dominion’s feisty smallmouth bass? Pound for pound, they’re one of America’s greatest game fish.

I’ll also chase Virginia’s iconic, nationally-renowned largemouth bass in any number of lakes and rivers in the summer, waiting for that heart-stopping, splashy take of my popper bug on the water’s surface. There’s nothing quite like it.

And fishing for wild (or stocked) rainbow, brown or brook trout all year round in Virginia’s thousands of miles of mountain and valley streams, spring creeks, tailwaters and rivers—yes, please!

The outdoors have become part of my soul and being—and my family’s. Indeed, it seems the natural world is as much a part of the conversation around the dinner table at night as school, work or little league sports.

In fact, recently, we knew summer wasn’t far off as my young son and I walked and talked about the fabulous, free annual light show put on by the lightning bugs as they flitted across the evening sky, engaging in some sort of courting ritual.

Yeah, it’s that big for us—and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

But Mother Nature’s great gifts can’t be taken for granted. As we know, there are pressures on habitat that have come from modern life, affecting both the wildlife and wild places that Virginians treasure.

This habitat must be maintained, improved—or even restored.

I mean, what birder, wildlife enthusiast or upland hunter wouldn’t be thrilled to once again be startled on a trail or in the field by regular explosive flushes of coveys of native Virginia bobwhite quail?

I certainly would be.

But it takes work and resources to keep wild Virginia wild for all of us. It’s a responsibility we have to each other—and to those future generations that hopefully will follow us on the hiking trails, in the fields and on the waters.

Now, more than ever, we need your help to address the needs of our declining wildlife populations.

DGIF invites you to join us in our mission to ensure wildlife has healthy places to live and thrive.

Learn About Restore the Wild

Dr. Peter Brookes is an award-winning Virginia outdoor writer.

  • September 12, 2019