Celebrating 50 Years of Conservation in Virginia

In 1960, a small group of conservation-minded individuals met to form The Nature Conservancy in Virginia. Since the birth of the Virginia Chapter 50 years ago, the Conservancy has helped to protect over 300,000 acres of private and public land across our great commonwealth.

Today, more than 31,000 dedicated supporters make up the Virginia Chapter of the Conservancy, and you are the key to our conservation success. Thank you.

We invite you to join The Nature Conservancy in Virginia as we embark on a yearlong celebration of 50 years of conservation success. 

Each month, we’re featuring a different place in Virginia that we’ve helped to protect. Get to know the places that inspire us as we look forward to another successful 50 years.

November: Bull Run Mountains

For Northern Virginia and Washington, D.C. residents, open green space is not something you see everyday. But travel just 35 miles west of the bustling city and you’ll find Bull Run Mountains — Virginia’s easternmost mountains, which boast unique ecological and cultural features.

Timber rattlesnakes, raven and several rare butterfly species make their home in the broadleaf deciduous forests of Bull Run Mountains. The Occoquan and Goose Creek watersheds begin on Bull Run Mountains rocky slopes. From the east or the west, the Bull Run Mountains are a welcome landmark.

For more than three decades, numerous individuals and groups have worked to protect this irreplaceable area from being swallowed by suburban sprawl. Bull Run Mountains Natural Area Preserve (BNAP) owned by The Virginia Outdoors Foundation protects this 2,500 acre natural resource and provides 800 acres of public recreational space.

October: Great Dismal Swamp

The Conservancy brokered the nation's first major corporate donation of conservation land in 1973, helping establish Great Dismal Swamp National Wildlife Refuge through Union Camp’s gift of nearly 50,000 acres.The Dismal Swamp, one of the largest forest blocks in the coastal plain of Virginia, is an ecological treasure. The wetlands here support more than 200 bird species and contain one of the last remaining stands of Atlantic white cedar,” said Brian van Eerden, director of the Conservancy’s Southern Rivers Program

Now more than 110,000 acres, the refuge is a magnet for migratory birds and for birders seeking to extend their life lists. Boating, hiking, biking, photography, wildlife observation, hunting and fishing also are popular options.

September: Piney Grove Preserve

Piney Grove Preserve in southeastern Virginia hosts the last remaining population of red-cockaded woodpeckers in Virginia. Since 1999, The Nature Conservancy has worked at Piney Grove to protect and restore this endangered species and its extraordinary habitat.

Visitors can explore the preserve by hiking along the Constance Darden Nature Trail at Piney Grove, which opened in spring 2009. The trail is named in honor of Constance S. du Pont Darden and made possible by a generous gift from the Darden family.

The Darden Nature Trail is open from February through October, dawn to dusk, for birding, hiking, photography and nature study.

Download a nature trail map and learn more about the pine forests of Piney Grove Preserve.

August: The Virginia Aquatic Resources Trust Fund

For over 15 years, the Virginia Chapter of The Nature Conservancy has been working with the Virginia Aquatic Resources Trust Fund to implement large-scale watershed efforts that restore, enhance and protect water quality.

Michael Lipford, Virginia state director explains, "We encourage landowners to explore opportunities like the Virginia Aquatic Resources Trust Fund, which can provide technical and financial assistance for restoring our lands and waters."

Take Fauquier landowners Dennis and Tracey Liberson, for example, who turned to the Trust Fund to help with stream restoration work at Bolling Branch. This effort will improve water quality for people and wildlife in the Chesapeake Bay watershed.

July: Dragon Run

Dubbed the “second most ecologically important watershed in the Chesapeake Bay” by the Smithsonian Institution, Dragon Run includes the northern-most tidal cypress swamp community on the western shore of the Chesapeake Bay.

Since launching our Chesapeake Rivers Program in 2001, the Conservancy has established a 500-acre preserve at Dragon Flats, helped individuals and partners conserve hundreds of acres, and worked with Virginia’s Department of Forestry to acquire 1,800-acre Dragon Run State Forest.

In May 2009, an additional 4,188 acres were purchased from Hancock Timber Resource Group, ensuring that this ecologically important land will never be developed and will be enjoyed by Virginians for generations.

June: Warm Springs Mountain

The Nature Conservancy in Virginia made history in 2002 with the acquisition of Warm Springs Mountain Preserve — the Conservancy's single largest land purchase in Virginia to date. The extraordinary diversity of habitats and species led the Conservancy to target Warm Springs Mountain as the focal point of its work in the Allegheny Highlands. More recently, conservation planners have identified the entirety of the surrounding Central Appalachians — running from Virginia north to Pennsylvania — as one of the Conservancy’s top global priorities.

Through diverse conservation partnerships, the Conservancy continues to conduct research, protect additional land and restore native habitat at Warm Springs Mountain.

May: Virginia Coast Reserve

The 14 undeveloped barrier islands that comprise the Virginia Coast Reserve (VCR) provide a first line of defense for our beaches when a storm hits. In addition to shielding the coast, VCR’s barrier islands shelter a variety of birds — from songbirds to oystercatchers — that find food in the quiet bays and salt marshes. In fact, VCR is one of the most important migratory bird stopover sites on Earth.  


VCR’s protection is due largely in part to the Mary Flagler Cary Charitable Trust. Three decades ago, the Cary Trust took advantage of a unique opportunity to partner with the Conservancy, and through its largest-ever capital investment, the trust granted the funds necessary to purchase 13 of the 14 barrier islands that make up VCR.

“I think the thing that is striking about a place like the Virginia Coast Reserve is that the gains are so tangible,” said Ned Ames, managing trustee of the Cary Trust. “A lot of what you do in a foundation is helping other people to achieve things. But in the case of VCR, you can go down there and be surrounded by the islands and the lagoon and the shore, and you can be a part of what has been achieved.”

Continuing a lasting partnership, last year the Cary Trust endowed VCR with a remarkable closing gift that helped the Conservancy raise over $14 million. The Atlantic coastline’s best remaining intact coastal wilderness will be permanently protected for future generations.

The Conservancy’s coastal conservation projects at VCR help to protect natural ecosystems and human economies, and our restoration work is breathing life back into populations of scallops, oysters and eelgrass.

In fact, this May/June, the Conservancy and partners are gearing up to continue the world’s largest seagrass restoration project off Virginia’s Eastern Shore.  Sign up to be one of 100 volunteer snorkelers who will collect millions of eelgrass seeds.

April: Vandell Preserve at Cumberland Marsh

A mixture of freshwater tidal marsh and wooded upland, Cumberland Marsh provides pristine habitat for wetlands species and migrating waterfowl, and it has the world's largest population of the rare sensitive joint-vetch. Located on the Pamunkey River, a Chesapeake Bay tributary, the preserve offers opportunities to spot great blue herons, osprey and egrets as you explore by boat or from the observation deck.

"One of the best parts of Cumberland Marsh is to see that this large freshwater marsh is relatively untouched. I am always surprised once I get off the developed roads to find this significant landscape hiding in nature," says Conservancy supporter Frances Lee-Vandell.

Frances Lee-Vandell's generous donation in honor of her husband helped the Conservancy ensure that these marshes will remain pristine for future generations of nature enthusiasts to experience nature.

March: Great Falls Park

Have you ever been to Great Falls National Park? The Nature Conservancy was a leader in the movement to establish this special park on the Potomac River. In 1957, the Conservancy wrote and, with support from partners, published a 45-page booklet recommending establishment of a park and nature preserve at Great Falls. Describing the area and its potential as a park and living classroom, the publication helped galvanize the public, government officials, other partners and the media. With broad support throughout the region, the National Park Service protected Great Falls in 1960 and opened the area to the public as a national park in 1966. Today, 76 percent of the drinking water for DC Metro region's 4.3 million residents comes directly from the Potomac River.

February: Clinch Valley Program

As we celebrate 50 years of conservation in Virginia, we're also marking the 20th anniversary of our work in southwestern Virginia's Clinch Valley. Over two decades, the Conservancy has helped protect more than 35,000 acres of critical natural habitat in the Clinch Valley from incompatible practices related to agriculture, development, timber harvesting and energy development. View a video of the Clinch Valley and see why it's been dubbed "America's crown jewel."

January: Wildcat Mountain

Thanks to a donation from the Arundel family, Wildcat Mountain, located on the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains, became the Conservancy's very first preserve in Virginia in 1961. Visitors to Wildcat will experience an outstanding variety of plant and animal communities, including 186 species of birds.

We’re Accountable

The Nature Conservancy makes careful use of your support.

More Ratings