Stories

Cumberland Forest Community Fund

Supporting nature-based economic and community development in the Appalachian regions of Southwest Virginia, Tennessee and Kentucky.

White mist shrouds the peaks of mountain ridges and fills the deep valleys.
Appalachians Clouds Aerial view of early morning clouds shrouding Central Appalachian mountain tops in southwest Virginia. May 2019. © Cameron Davidson

The Appalachians were born from a violent upheaval of rock spanning roughly 2,000 miles from present-day Alabama to Canada. For more than 400 million years, natural forces have sculpted this ancient chain.

Today at least 22 million people call the region home, and millions more rely on its natural abundance for their health, recreation and livelihoods.

In July 2021, a first round of grants were awarded through the Cumberland Forest Community Fund, a local grant program aimed at supporting nature-based economic and community development in Southwest Virginia, Tennessee and Kentucky.

Cumberland Forest Community Fund (7:00) "We've got to make a difference." Grant recipients share the positive economic, community and environmental impacts that the Cumberland Forest Community Fund will help support across the southwest Virginia region.

Supporting Local Ventures

Successful grant awardees are implementing exciting projects that contribute toward the program’s triple bottom line of desired outcomes: enhancing local economic development, building community capacity and improving environmental quality within the program area.

The Cumberland Forest Limited Partnership provides funding for the grants. The Nature Conservancy is pleased to be partnering with UVA Wise for the management of its projects in Virginia and with the Clinch-Powell Resource Conservation and Development Council for the management of its projects in Tennessee.

Virginia

Projects selected in Virginia span seven counties—Wise, Russell, Tazewell, Dickenson, Buchanan, Lee, Scott—and City of Norton. Projects were selected through a competitive process that solicited proposals from businesses, non-profits and communities.

Appalshop secured $9,850 for their Pound River Access project. Building on recent efforts to increase access to the Pound River, this project will establish parking areas, improve pedestiran access and create wayfinding signage and an informational kiosk to help educate users about the ecological and historical value of the river.

The Breaks Interstate Park secured $15,000 for their Climbing Development project. In 2015, the Breaks Interstate Park opened rock climbing in response to overwhelming demand expressed during the public comment section of their site master plan. Since that time, the Breaks has partnered with multiple entities to develop over 250 new routes, thousands of feet of access trails and a printed climbing guide. This project will expand upon these efforts by constructing new access trails, additional routes and camping options for climbers.

The Central Appalachia Climbers Coalition secured $6,850 for their Ben’s Branch Access project. This project will install a new parking area, build and improve the access trail, and install a new trailhead kiosk for Ben’s Branch, the new climbing area owned by the Town of Appalachia. The area is an impressive sandstone cliff that provides recreational opportunities for beginner to advanced climbers in a natural, scenic setting.

The Friends of SWVA secured a capacity building grant in the amount of $11,700 for their Clinch River Valley Initiative (CRVI). As the Initiative enters its second decade of service, the organization looks forward to incorporating as a non-profit and empowering a visionary leader to help steer CRVI toward continued economic and recreational growth while protecting and preserving the Clinch’s globally rare species for future generations.

OH Rentals LLC secured $5,600 for their OH Stay and Ride project. Based in Coeburn, OH Stay and Ride will provide lodging, bike and kayak rentals, repair services and shuttles so that visitors can spend time enjoying the over 100 miles of mountain trails in Wise County. Overnight accommodations include two-bedroom apartments, a gathering space and outdoor patio.

The SWVA Sportsmen secured a grant for $13,000 for their Wildlife Habitat project. SWVA Sportsmen will expand wildlife viewing opportunities in Buchanan County, increasing tourism and attracting visitors to the region. Since the completion of previous public wildlife viewing shelters and adjacent food plots, there has been a marked increase in wildlife tourism, adventure tourism, bird watching, wildlife watching, hiking and shed hunting in Buchanan County, particularly close to the new cabins and RV spots at Southern Gap.

The Town of Appalachia secured $10,000 for their Washington Rock Recreation Area project. This project aims to develop the Washington Rock Recreation Area in the Town of Appalachia into an outdoor recreation, tourism and community-use facility by capitalizing on the site’s inherent natural assets, historical significance and land-reuse opportunities. Once developed, the area will provide picnic facilities and river access for fishing, kayaking and tubing.

The Town of Haysi secured $13,500 for their Haysi Riverfront Trail project. The Haysi Riverfront Trail project will construct a boardwalk and trail for pedestrian and electric bike traffic overlooking the Russell Fork River. Nestled behind a string of oft-frequented businesses in Haysi’s downtown, the Riverfront Trail will promote economic growth and tie together the various ATV, hiking, equestrian, biking and pedestrian trails in eastern Dickenson County and the nearby Breaks Interstate Park.

The Town of St. Paul secured $4,500 for their Wetlands Estonoa project. The Wetlands Estonoa Learning Center facilitates zero-cost environmental learning for kids of all ages. The facility consists of indoor and outdoor venues and a half-mile walking trail that loops around the federally certified wetlands. Funding will go toward the creation of a new span bridge overlooking the wetlands.

The Virginia Cooperative Extension of Lee County secured $10,000 for their Outdoor Classroom for Pennington Gap Greenway project. The Pennington Gap Greenway is a walking trail that runs beside the Powell River and is located adjacent to the Lee County Extension Office and Pennington Middle School. The trail is frequented by tourists and citizens of the community alike. This project aims to establish an outdoor classroom, hands-on education station and signage for educating both K–12 students and the general public.

Tennessee

Projects selected in Tennessee span five counties—Claiborne, Campbell, Union, Hancock and Grainger. The partners selected projects through a competitive process that solicited proposals from businesses, non-profits and communities. 

Riverside Rentals secured $7,500 for a beautification project that will plant native vegetation to protect against erosion and make improvements that include improved river access and the creation of a walking trail.

Big Ridge State Park secured $19,049 for a permanent, centralized outdoor water station that is accessible and weatherproof for use by hikers and others visiting the park.

The Wellbeing Foundation secured $10,000 for a pollinator project that involves planting a large field to attract and encourage pollinators, and purchasing equipment to maintain pollinator habitats, both new and already planted, for years to come.

Servolution Health Services secured $14,513 for a People Achieving Total Health (PATH) program that will include a multipurpose outdoor space to be used for physical wellness, community events, as an outdoor classroom and as a meeting space for 4H clubs and others.

Campbell County Chamber of Commerce secured $25,000 to rebuild the popular Hatfield Knob elk viewing tower with steel and ADA compliant access.

Woodland Community Development Corporation secured $16,680 to create a shared workspace for small businesses in the remote Clearfork Valley area near Clairfield, Tennessee.

Kentucky

The Mountain Association secured $77,990 for a rooftop solar installation on the Community Center in Middlesboro, KY, located in the heart of the Cumberland Forest Project's Ataya property. TNC's Kentucky chapter has partnered with Mountain Association to evaluate and prioritize community solar installation projects that will deliver long-term cost savings for local governments and community non-profits while also reducing carbon emissions and providing an outreach opportunity within Kentucky about the benefits and feasibility of clean energy. The Mountain Association serves Eastern Kentucky by investing in the people and places to advance the transition to a new economy that is more diverse, sustainable, equitable and resilient. 

About the Cumberland Forest Limited Partnership

The Cumberland Forest Limited Partnership, managed by The Nature Conservancy, owns more than 250,000 acres in the coalfields of Virginia, Kentucky, and Tennessee. Cumberland Forest utilizes an impact investment approach to manage these lands for sustainable forestry, climate resiliency, renewable energy, recreational uses and economic opportunities for people and communities.