The Nature Conservancy has protected one of America's natural treasures, an 850-acre property that is considered the most ecologically significant site in the Upper Tennessee River Basin.
Kyles Ford Preserve is valued for its position on the Clinch River and its assortment of aquatic life, including numerous rare and threatened species. The centerpiece of the new preserve is the Kyles Ford mussel shoal, a shallow section of the Clinch River that contains at least 35 mussel species, more than any other place on Earth.
"The acquisition of this property, and its designation as a nature preserve are critical steps towards the protection of the river, including the plants and animals that call it home, and the water that people in Virginia and Tennessee depend on for consumption and recreation," said Bill Kittrell, director of the Conservancy's Clinch Valley Program.
The Clinch River sustains 48 imperiled and vulnerable species, including 29 varieties of rare mussels and 19 species of fish. Rare plants, mammals and birds also thrive along the river's edge. All told, the river and surrounding valley are home to 27 species that are federally listed as threatened or endangered, and the new preserve contains 10 of these species.
The health of the Kyles Ford Preserve in particular and the Clinch River in general is threatened by the erosion of river banks, the loss of trees and shrubs along the banks, and declining water quality due to contamination from industrial and agricultural activities, including bacterial input from cattle wading in the river and its tributaries.
At Kyles Ford, the Conservancy will work to protect the river by restoring native trees and shrubs to the river banks, keeping cattle out of the river itself, and monitoring water quality. The Conservancy will use the property, which had been a working farm, as a model to show local landowners ways in which farming and river conservation can be compatible.