Southwest Virginia's Clinch River is the nation's most important river in terms of rare and imperiled fish and mussels.
The Clinch, Powell and Holston rivers run nearly parallel courses through the remote mountains and valleys of southwestern Virginia and northeastern Tennessee. These last free-flowing tributaries of the Tennessee River system harbor the nation’s highest concentrations of globally rare and imperiled fish and freshwater mussels.
Since establishing our Clinch Valley Program in 1990, the Conservancy has worked with local communities to promote sustainable economic and recreational opportunities that are consistent with protecting the region’s lands, waters and way of life. Our current efforts to create a new Clinch River State Park demonstrate how nature conservation can benefit people in a variety of ways.
The Conservancy has helped protect more than 35,000 acres of critical natural habitat in the Clinch Valley. In the Clinch River alone, we’ve protected seven key shoals that collectively represent one of the world’s most diverse assemblages of freshwater mussels.
We also work with local farmers and other rural landowners to safeguard streams, rivers and caves from water pollution. In Hancock County, Tennessee, for example, more than 120 landowners have worked with the Conservancy to implement agricultural best management practices such as fencing their cattle away from streams.
To help maintain healthy forests that protect water quality for people, fish and mussels, we launched the Conservation Forestry Program in 2002 and now manage some 22,000 acres to model sustainable forestry practices. Learn more about this program.
From conservation planning to field research to habitat protection and restoration, science guides the work of the Clinch Valley Program. At our Cleveland Island Preserve on the Clinch River, for example, the Conservancy is working with partners to test the most effective methods for increasing rare mussel populations.
Through diverse partnerships, the Conservancy also is fostering scientific inquiry on coal mining and other land uses, seeking to increase our understanding of historic and current impacts to streams and other resources.
The Energy Intersection
The Clinch Valley’s rare river animals and habitats overlap with valuable energy resources, including significant natural gas reserves and an estimated 250 million tons of coal. This convergence led the Conservancy to develop strategies to reduce impacts from coal mining, natural gas wells and other energy development.
In 2007, the Conservancy co-hosted a symposium, “Coal Mining and the Aquatic Environment,” to bring together mining regulators, industry representatives, researchers and conservationists to assess the impact of coal mining’s legacy and future trends on water quality and rare species.
The symposium led to the launch of the Clinch-Powell Clean Rivers Initiative in 2008. Initiative members come from state and federal agencies, private business interests, academia, and non-profit conservation organizations — all focused on improving water quality and river health.
The Conservancy also is working with mining regulators to update the Clinch Valley’s inventory of abandoned mine lands and to rank priorities for restoration. At Flint Gap in Russell County, we partnered with the Virginia Department of Mines, Minerals, and Energy and with Virginia Tech to rejuvenate compacted soils, replant native trees and capture carbon emissions.
Download the Clinch Valley Brochure
Clinch Valley Program
146 East Main Street
Abingdon, VA 24210
Phone: (276) 676-2209
The Nature Conservancy is a non-profit, tax-exempt charitable organization under Section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code. Donations are tax-deductible.