Hoffler Creek Wildlife Preserve functions to conserve the last parcel of wilderness in the Hoffler Creek Watershed consistent with good stewardship for environmental education, research, and recreation.
In the city of Portsmouth, Virginia, sits Hoffler Creek Wildlife Preserve - a 142-acre haven at the mouth of the James River, connecting to the Chesapeake Bay through the safe harbor of the Hampton Roads. The preserve is bordered by Hoffler Creek, named after Revolutionary War militia Captain William Hoffler, and the entire area is steeped in rich history. Colonized in the early 1600s, the James River and channels of the Chesapeake Bay were valuable to farmers and fisherman who relied on the waterways for trade and commerce, and the bay provided the necessary backdrop for the burgeoning town of Portsmouth.
Later, the area was also considered strategically important to soldiers who fought in the Battle of Craney Island during the War of 1812. On June 22, 1813, Craney Island’s 737 American men defeated a British force of 2,500 that attacked by land, and held the James River against 45 to 50 boats of soldiers who attacked there. This American victory had a major impact on the War of 1812, saving Norfolk and Portsmouth from British occupation.
During the Civil War, Confederate soldiers, encamped in the coastal forest witnessed the famous battle between the Monitor and the Merrimack, (also known as the Battle of Hampton Roads.) This engagement was arguably one of the most decisive Naval battles of the war, and the first meeting in combat of ironclad warships at the time.
For centuries tributaries like Hoffler Creek provided truck farmers (“truck” means vegetables grown for market) with easy access to ports at the mouth of the Chesapeake Bay. In 1903, one such truck farmer, John Wright Ballard, Sr., brought his bride Effie Toler Hathaway to his beautiful Queen Anne house - complete with stunning views of Hoffler Creek and Hampton Roads. John and Effie Ballard’s six children grew up on the farmland that would later become Hoffler Creek Wildlife Preserve. In the 1940’s and 50’s the Ballards began to plant parcels of land to timber, preparing it for sale to developers.
While most of the parcels surrounding the Preserve were sold to developers in the 1960s and 70s, Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) purchased the final 142-acre parcel. VDOT dug sand and fill from a borrow pit at the center of the property for the construction of SR 164 (Western Freeway) and I-664. When the highway projects were complete, the borrow pit was allowed to fill with its unique mix of salt and fresh water and eventually formed a brackish lake.
In the early 1990’s, VDOT attempted to sell the last parcel for development. However, members of the surrounding community - who had been using the land for recreation and wildlife observation - did not want to lose their wilderness. A group of neighbors petitioned the city to preserve the land. The city of Portsmouth accepted ownership of the parcel but tasked the concerned citizens with the management of the property. In response, these citizens formed Hoffler Creek Wildlife Foundation.
Since its inception, Hoffler Creek Wildlife Foundation has sustainably developed the preserve by adding hiking trails, docks and overlooks, kayaking, oyster gardening, and educational programming. HCWF has forged relationships with area schools, colleges, and community groups who come to experience nature firsthand. While they are no longer connected to the property, John and Effie Ballard’s family consistently supports the mission of Hoffler Creek Wildlife Foundation. In consideration of a generous bequest from Juliet Ballard Hawks, the third of John and Effie Ballard’s children, the foundation named the property’s centerpiece Lake Ballard.
You too can be part of the unique history of Hoffler Creek Wildlife Preserve. Come by for a walk, attend a program, or rent a kayak. You can also become a member of the Hoffler Creek family by joining Hoffler Creek Wildlife Foundation. We look forward to sharing with you the natural wonder of this land, and in the process, we hope to chart a new history together.