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.
As partners in the Clinch River Valley Initiative, for example, we're helping lead a movement to create a Clinch River State Park. In 2016, the Virginia General Assembly took a big step toward development of the park by including the project in a package of capital projects that will be funded through the issuance of bonds. The park is envisioned to provide at least 600 acres of new public land for recreation such as hiking, canoeing and camping, along with enhanced public access and education at multiple sites along the river.
To date, the Conservancy has helped protect more than 35,000 acres of critical natural habitat throughout 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 protect water quality in streams, rivers and caves. In Hancock County, Tennessee, for instance, more than 120 landowners have partnered with the Conservancy to implement agricultural best management practices such as fencing their cattle away from streams.
In 2016, in partnership with 5 local Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) offices, the Conservancy was awarded $4.5 million by the USDA’s Regional Conservation Partnership Program (RCPP) for a 5-year project that will target investment of Agricultural Best Management Practices across five counties in the Clinch Watershed. As part of this grant, the Conservancy will chair a 5-county advisory board that will select BMP projects aimed to maximize benefits to rare species, water quality, and local farmers in the Clinch Valley.
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.
Clinch Valley in the news:
Using Nature to Nurture a Depressed Economy: Part 1 of 2 (WVTF Radio IQ)
The Clinch River in Southwest Virginia is the most biologically diverse in all of North America. “The Clinch is this incredibly special river with more rare species than any river in North America and yet nobody really knows about it ... There are stretches of the river where you just feel like you’re the only person on earth.”
Using Local Culture to Nurture a Depressed Economy: Part 2 of 2 (WVTF Radio IQ)
Brad Kreps is gazing up at Tank Hollow falls in the town of Cleveland Virginia. Already envisioning the new hiking trails, which will knit these mountain ridges into natural sanctuary for wildlife and people. “It's beautiful isn’t it? And it’s just a secret, one of the many little treasures you find in Southwest Virginia.”
Download the Clinch Valley Brochure
Clinch Valley Program
146 East Main Street
Abingdon, VA 24210
Phone: (276) 676-2209
Explore the Clinch Valley
There's a groundswell of support for a unique new state park along the Clinch River. Explore
Rare species evolved and endure in The Cedars, thanks to its remote and rugged terrain. Explore
Wade into the watery world of imperiled freshwater mussels. Dive in
Explore the nation's most important river in terms of rare and imperiled fish and mussels. Play video
An ecological hotspot with national significance for its concentration of rare species. Explore
Kyles Ford is valued for its assortment of aquatic life, including many rare and threatened species. Explore
This environment supports the highest concentration of Cumberlandian mollusk species known to exist anywhere in the world. Explore
One of Virginia's largest caves, Unthanks Cave houses an unusually diverse animal community, comprised of cave-adapted species (troglodytes). Explore