Allegheny Highlands Program
Working to ensure the continued health of our forests, rivers and wildlife.
This article was updated on August 21, 2020.
The views from Warm Springs Mountain Preserve remain largely unchanged since the native Algonquin people called these mountains allegheny, meaning “endless.” A sea of ridges roll to the horizon– an unexpected, unbroken forest in a well-traversed part of America.
Thomas Jefferson and other early visitors found these highlands both therapeutic and inspiring. Today, our conservation scientists have recognized the area as a natural stronghold, a place where The Nature Conservancy and our partners work to ensure the continued health of the Allegheny Highlands’ forests, rivers and wildlife.
From our office in Hot Springs, Virginia, we work in close partnership with local communities, public-land managers and private landowners. Together, we share an incredible opportunity to protect the health and beauty of the Allegheny Highlands.
HEALTHY LANDS AND WATERS
The reputed healing powers of the region’s thermal springs first drew settlers and visitors to the Allegheny Highlands. Now much of this landscape is dominated by public lands, including the George Washington National Forest, Douthat State Park, and several state wildlife management areas.
These large forest blocks, including the Conservancy’s nearly 10,000 acre Warm Springs Mountain Preserve, help maintain healthy breeding populations of interior-forest-dwelling songbirds, provide key habitat for wide-ranging mammals, and protect headwater tributaries of both the Jackson and Cowpasture Rivers. These rivers combine to form the James River, which provides drinking water to millions of Virginians before ultimately feeding into the Chesapeake Bay.
This extraordinary diversity of habitats and species led The Nature Conservancy to identify Warm Springs Mountain and the Allegheny Highlands as critical priorities for conservation action.
Our single largest contiguous preserve in Virginia, Warm Springs Mountain supports wildlife ranging from migratory song birds to black bears. Unusual plant species, such as variable sedge, still flourish here and thriving hardwood forests give way to a globally rare montane pine barren. Warm Springs Mountain Preserve is open to the public year-round and offers opportunities to explore and hike along the Bear Loop, Ingalls Overlook, and Sandy Gap trails.
Partners in Conservation
Warm Springs Mountain is a keystone tract that helps stitch together one of the largest undeveloped landscapes on the East Coast, offering opportunities to practice conservation at a remarkable scale. A 13-mile border in common with the George Washington National Forest allows for collaboration and resource sharing.
In partnership with the U.S. Forest Service and other agencies, we launched the Central Appalachians Fire Learning Network to demonstrate and document the benefits of controlled burning to the health of the Allegheny Highlands’ pine-oak forests.
Our bird conservation efforts include a long-term study of landscape-scale response of avian communities to controlled burning. The project spans 18,000 acres of contiguous lands owned by the Conservancy and the George Washington and Jefferson National Forests.
PROGRAM MILESTONES AND ACHIEVEMENTS
- 2019: Ninth year of Avian Monitoring in the Allegheny Highlands completed
- 2014: Ribbon cutting ceremony to celebrate final payment for the Preserve and the unveiling of a new trailhead at the Dan Ingalls Overlook
- 2012: Warm Springs Mountain Preserve’s 10 year anniversary
- 2012: Largest collaborative burn ever conducted between USFS and TNC in the country
- 2006: Central Appalachians Fire Learning Network (FLN) formed
- March 2002: More than 9,000 acres of critical native forest acquired on Warm Springs Mountain, marking the Conservancy’s largest single land purchase in Virginia.
Make a Difference
Together we can find creative solutions to tackle our most complex conservation challenges and build a stronger future for people and nature. Will you help us continue this work?