Photos and story by Emily Grey
Wild Acres is a rare estate gracing Onancock Creek in Accomack County on Virginia’s Eastern Shore. The area is a world-renowned hunting and fishing mecca – an all-around sporting paradise. Expansive rural land like that found on Wild Acres is steadily disappearing.
True to its name, Wild Acres is a haven for wildlife. Canada geese, 12 species of ducks, deer and turkey abound. Bobwhite quail, mourning dove and small game inhabit the woodland edge. Hunting deer with bow and arrow, muzzle-loader or rifle reaps bountiful harvests. Waterfowl hunting in blinds or with make-do evergreen branches yields daily bag limits.
This 127.7- acre tract is also a vital staging and nesting area for thousands of migrating neo-tropical songbirds. It is ideal for bird-watching and photography, making it a premier wildlife lover’s destination. Across the water from Wild Acres is the 759-acre Parkers Marsh Natural Area Preserve. This sanctuary is home to the northeastern beach tiger beetle, nesting peregrine falcons and the secret salt-marsh sparrow.
Long before my birth, my maternal grandparents gave Wild Acres with a preexisting dwelling to my mother and father. My grandparents lived just a half-mile down the road in the village of Poplar Cove. My grandfather, Harvey Mears, owned and operated a country store there in the 1920s where local patrons gathered for conversation and to purchase flour, sugar and hard candy. He also owned two nearby barrel factories and the largest diamondback-terrapin farm in the state. Steamboats rolled in from Baltimore to load up with terrapin meat bound for high-end restaurants.
Earlier history suggests that Captain John Smith may have sailed past Wild Acres during his explorations in the Chesapeake Bay. Native Americans frequented this land, as evidenced by arrowheads or projectile points and other dated tools poking up in the fields and along the shoreline.
Named years later by my mother, Wild Acres consists of 50 acres of harvestable timber. In fact, the Virginia Department of Forestry has recommended a harvest plan. Mixed hardwoods. including oaks, sweet gum, wild cherries, and other deciduous species, as well as Eastern red cedars and loblolly pines, are home to American woodcock, Eastern gray squirrels, and myriad birds. Flowering dogwoods, American hollies and other small trees comprise the understory. Southern bayberry (waxed myrtle) and other thick shrubs provide wonderful shelter along the periphery for nesters.
A vast brackish marsh draws clapper rails, shorebirds and muskrats. It also serves as a nursery for fish, crustaceans and mollusks. Offshore, a shellfish lover may plant an oyster bed or two.
The majority of a 14-acre field is currently under USDA Conservation Enhancement Program. A new owner may elect out of this program and resume farming soybeans, sunflowers, corn and other area crops, plant a tree farm or perform another earth-compatible activity.
Toward the end of the field road leading up the permanent-easement driveway is a line of American elms and deodar cedars. Rose-laden trellises and sparkling white fences as well as camellia, abelia and red bell bushes accentuate the immediate area outside the house. Pecan, walnut and pear trees flourish on the one-acre lawn. In spring, the grounds are enhanced with the sweet scents of purple iris, daffodils and rhododendron pollinated by butterflies, bees and hummingbirds. In autumn, a lone bald cypress showcases a coppery foliage.
With more than a mile of waterfront, a boating, hunting or fishing aficionado will cherish Wild Acres. Ketches and schooners share the waterway with powerboats and kayaks, as well as a parade of hunting and fishing boats. My mother used to describe our land as “the last private property closest to Baltimore, starboard side out the creek.”
My father and grandfather used to suit up in winter and try their luck at rock fishing along the shoreline. Angling in the creek still yields puppy drum, croaker and many other prized game fish, such as speckled trout. Blue crabs also adorned the dinner table throughout the year, offering meals fit for a king. To this day they remain abundant and delicious. The only hindrance to fishing is the occasional competition from bald eagles, ospreys and great blue herons.
Sunsets along Onancock Creek will touch anyone’s heart and soul. Our nation’s largest estuary, the Chesapeake Bay, can be seen to the west. From the air, Wild Acres is a neatly packaged maze of trees, rip-rapped coastline, beach and wetland meadows glistening with marsh elders, Spartina and wildflowers.
From the attic window of the one-story, nine-room white bungalow, I used to gaze upon this sporting paradise. The flocks of ducks, herds of wild deer and divine sunsets have left me with a lifetime of fond memories. Wild Acres would make a wonderful summer vacation home or a year round venue. Hunters could occupy a hideaway from fall through spring and it will make a wonderful preserve for an environmentally friendly family.
Wild Acres is only a four-minute boat ride from the closest town of Onancock and four hours from Washington, D.C., and Baltimore.
Emily M. Grey, a resident of Onancock, Virginia, on the Eastern Shore, is a writer, photographer, attorney, naturalist and wildlife biologist. Her passions are global travel, nature and sports. Wild Acres is her family estate.