View of Warm Springs Mountain from Bear Loop overlook
Endless Mountains Bear Loop overlook at Warm Springs Mountain, Virginia. © Jennifer Dalke / TNC

Stories in Virginia

Allegheny Highlands Program

Working to ensure the continued health of our forests, rivers, and wildlife.

Download the Allegheny Highlands Program Brochure (pdf)

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.

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 ForestDouthat 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 CONSERVATION STRATEGIES

Guided by science, the Conservancy works with a variety of partners to protect the forests, caves, rivers, and unique habitats of the Allegheny Highlands. Below are some of the ways we work:

Land and Water Protection
A trail blaze shows the way on Warm Springs Mountain Preserve.
Warm Springs Mountain A trail blaze shows the way on Warm Springs Mountain Preserve. © Glenna Goldman / TNC

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 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. 

Partners in Conservation
Burn crew members at Trappers Lodge staging area prepare for the Big Wilson Burn on Warm Springs Mountain in Bath County, Virginia.
Big Wilson Burn Burn crew members at Trappers Lodge staging area prepare for the Big Wilson Burn on Warm Springs Mountain in Bath County, Virginia. © Daniel White/TNC

Warm Springs Mountain serves as a living laboratory for enhancing forest health. 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 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. 

Inspiring Communities and New Conservationists
Interns in the Leaders in Environmental Action for the Future program flex their muscles on Warm Springs Mountain.
LEAF lands in Virginia Interns in the Leaders in Environmental Action for the Future program flex their muscles on Warm Springs Mountain. © Laurel Schablein / TNC

The Conservancy recognizes that people are a vital part of the natural systems in which they live, work and play.  Warm Springs Mountain Preserve is open to the public year-round and offers opportunities to explore and hike along the Bear LoopIngalls Overlook, and Sandy Gap trails.     

To inspire the next generation of conservationists, each summer we host interns from the Conservancy’s LEAF program (Leaders in Environmental Action for the Future). Through LEAF, students from urban environmental high schools gain firsthand experience and exposure to careers in conservation. 

LEAF students in the Allegheny Highlands have taken part in trail maintenance, wildlife research and water-quality monitoring projects. Read about the impressive results yielded by this effort to inspire the next generation of conservationists.

Community Based Conservation

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. 

PROGRAM MILESTONES AND ACHIEVEMENTS
  • 2018: Eighth 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.
CONTACT

Blair Smythe
Allegheny Highlands Program Director
420 Forestry Road
Hot Springs, VA 24445
(540) 839-3599