SHANGHAI, W.Va. — Mildred S. Miller, never a woman of means, still had enough to establish the 46-acre Stauffer's Marsh Nature Preserve that was dedicated Tuesday in a special ceremony.
Miller died in 1999.
"My mother never had much money and what she did have went to her will," her son, Stauffer Miller, said at the dedication a half-mile south of the village of Shanghai on Back Creek Valley Road.
Stauffer Miller said his mother always instilled a love of the natural world in her children. In 1999, Miller, of Charlottesville, Va., and his wife, Ellie, decided to use his share of his mother's estate to buy the 46-acre property from Larry and Margaret Ashton.
In September, they donated it to the Potomac Valley Audubon Society.
In 1989, when the Ashtons owned the land, the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Natural Resources Conservation Service gave the family $60,000 for an easement to the property. The government spent another $62,000 to, among other projects, build a dam, divert a stream and dig out ponds, some of which go dry in summer. The preserve has marshy areas, woods and 780 feet along Back Creek.
Howard Butts, a biologist with the USDA's Wetland Reserve Program, led the effort to restore the property to its natural wetlands state. Long ago, previous owners had drained it and converted it to marshy farmland to grow crops, Butts said.
Bass, beaver and about 150 species of birds live in the preserve today.
Peter Smith of Shepherdstown, W.Va., an Audubon Society spokesman, said biologists from West Virginia University are beginning a two-year study to officially inventory its flora and fauna.
Bill O'Donnell, assistant state conservationist with the USDA, said West Virginia has 500 acres in wetland easements representing about 1 percent of the state's total acreage.
"Land and habitat conservation should be priorities for our county," William "Bill" Stubblefield, president of the Berkeley County Council, told the audience of about 40 people. "This is something that Stauffer's and Ellie's gift should remind us of and one which we should take to heart."
The preserve is open to the public and is expected to be popular with birders, hikers and nature lovers.
Dogs are not allowed.
Old rules that allowed residents to fish in the preserve after the USDA restored its ponds in the early 1990s are gone. The Audubon Society has posted new rules that require sportsmen to get prior permission to fish the preserve's waters by calling 304-676-3397.
Butts said a certified trophy largemouth bass was caught in one of the preserve's ponds.
As for hunters, none are allowed in the preserve, except one.
Society members, hoping to control the preserve's deer population, have given exclusive hunting rights to a neighbor in exchange for his keeping an eye on the property, Smith said. He declined to identify the neighbor.
"He probably doesn't want his name in the paper," Smith said.