CHESAPEAKE, VA. -- The city of Chesapeake has donated 568 acres of land along the North Landing River to the Nature Conservancy, a private group dedicated to acquiring land and leaving it in its natural state, the conservancy said.

One of the conservancy's Virginia goals is to develop a wetland preserve along the river. It already owns 1,900 acres and is receiving another 2,200 acres from a private donor. The nonprofit group ultimately hopes to expand the site by several thousand acres.

Chesapeake's donation is accessible only by water, and the land at the junction of the North Landing and the Pocaty rivers is normally only a foot above water level. The land is usually under several feet of water in the spring and fall.

The land is important because it is one of the most botanically diverse areas on the East Coast and contains some rare plant species, conservancy directors said. In addition, the marshes are home to several rare animal species, including the endangered least bittern, and a wide variety of waterfowl. The area is on the Atlantic flyway, which provides a winter haven and breeding ground for many species of migratory birds.

The city got the land in 1986 under the condition that it be used as a park. The conservancy plans to install 700 yards of boardwalk with interpretative nature displays, and also wants to install a boat dock.

The North Landing River project is the conservancy's second undertaking in Chesapeake. In the early 1970s, the organization was instrumental in developing the Great Dismal Swamp Wildlife Refuge after receiving a 57,000-acre donation from Union Camp Corp.

"The City of Chesapeake is proud to contribute this land to allow the vital work of the Nature Conservancy to continue," said Chesapeake Mayor William Ward. "By donating this property, the city has ensured that the land will be maintained as a nature preserve for future generations to enjoy."