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Striking a Balance at the Beach

The uniqueness of False Cape State Park grows from a deeply rooted distinction between preservation and conservation in American environmentalism. 

I had the opportunity to travel to False Cape on an informative trip with the DCR Reservation Center leadership in order to learn more about how preservation and conservation drive the policies, and ultimately the experience, of campers on the coast. 

False Cape Beach

False Cape Beach

The biggest difference between preservation and conservation lies in human intervention.  Preservation basically maintains hands-off as a priority, while conservation stresses a responsible hands-on approach to land management. “You’ll catch us doing very little management,” said Assistant Park Manager Cameron Swain, as her truck rolled through the neighboring Back Bay National Wildlife Refuge. The park engages in minimal intervention, managing local populations of feral wildlife through low-impact hunting of wild boar and deer. Nesting boxes are also provided to promote the population of wood ducks in Back Bay. Additionally, controlled burns at False Cape keep the invasion of foreign plants to a minimum, while priming the land for new growth. 
That’s where conservation stops, though. “We allow natural succession,” Cameron informed me right off the bat. Scientific studies of dune and wave dynamics work with the existing flora, fauna and landscape that False Cape provides without introducing foreign variables. Outside of routine hunting activities, and the establishment of assisted nesting for the ducks, False Cape insists on natural succession in the realm of wildlife. Coyotes, bobcats and snakes participate in the environment undisturbed.
Royal Terns
Royal Terns in the surf
It’s important for guests to recognize the degree of preservation at False Cape and understand the impact of their presence. This is important for the success of any public park, but at False Cape it is crucial. To that end, False Cape’s policies promote a healthy dynamic between park and guest. Swain noted that False Cape’s wilderness seems to be infectious, that the level of preservation going on instills a kind of respect in visitors who turn their attention towards an understanding of the land.
With priorities aimed at preservation, tempered with the responsibility of ethical conservation and combined with sensitive humanity, maybe the most profound aspect of False Cape is the total balance. There’s a sense of that balance in everything you see and touch – balance is the experience. So for campers looking to immerse themselves in natural harmony, False Cape is your destination. 
Minimum Impact Camping
Minimum Impact Signage
False Cape State Park is located at 4001 Sandpiper Road, Virginia Beach, VA 23456. 
About False Cape State Park:
No vehicular access. Located in southern Virginia Beach, False Cape State Park is a mile-wide barrier spit between Back Bay and the Atlantic Ocean. Access is through the Back Bay National Wildlife Refuge and is limited to hiking, bicycling or boating. The park features primitive camping and an extensive environmental education program in one of the last undisturbed coastal environments on the East Coast. Learn more here.

Published: 04/04/2012

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