Aerial view of Watchapreague, VA. Meandering channels through coastal marsh, leading to a wider body of water, and a small coastal town with piers and buildings.
Virginia Coast Reserve Town of Wachapreague, VA as seen during an aerial survey flight. © Peter Frank Edwards for The Nature Conservancy

Stories in Virginia

Volgenau Virginia Coast Reserve

Celebrating 50 Years of Conservation

Round logo with a blue center.
1970 - 2020 Celebrating 50 years of conservation. © TNC

The work we do at the Volgenau Virginia Coast Reserve (VVCR) serves as a model for how conservation can help both human and natural communities adapt and become more resilient in the face of a changing climate.

VVCR's 14 undeveloped barrier and marsh islands—the longest expanse of coastal wilderness remaining on the east coast—help to protect Eastern Shore communities from storm surges and sea level rise, as well as providing critical wildlife habitat. The mainland and island preserves of VVCR offer visitors unique natural experiences.

Explore our stories below to learn about our coastal resilience, land protection, migratory bird and marine habitat restoration work as well as our education and community outreach programs.

Three fuzzy white and gray piping plover chicks.
Piping Plover Chicks VVCR's barrier islands are managed to protect coastal habitats for the bird species that depend on them for survival. © Dottie Dowling

Connect with the Volgenau Virginia Coast Reserve

For inquiries about visiting Brownsville Preserve, island use policies, connecting with our community outreach or education programs, or learning more about our conservation work on Virginia's Eastern Shore.

11332 Brownsville Road - PO Box 158
Nassawadox, VA 23413
Phone: 757-442-3049

Our world faces complex conservation challenges.  Meet the people who are working on creative, lasting solutions here on Virginia's Eastern Shore.


Jill Bieri, Director Volgenau Virginia Coast Reserve


Jill brings more than 25 years of experience in marine science and environmental education to her role as director of the Volgenau Virginia Coast Reserve.  Prior to joining TNC, Jill was the founder and director of the nonprofit organization Chesapeake Experience, working with teachers and students to integrate the Chesapeake Bay into classroom and outdoor learning experiences. 

"Virginia’s Eastern Shore is a rare, conserved wilderness with communities that are friendly and full of character and culture. I feel privileged to live and work here."

Amanda Hurley, Office Manager


Amanda was born and raised on the Eastern Shore of Maryland.  She provides administrative and finance support, welcomes visitors to the preserve, and keeps the VVCR office humming.

"I love working for an organization whose mission I’m passionate about."

Marcus Killmon, Captain and Facilities Manager


Marcus supports every program at VVCR.  He maintains VVCR’s fleet of marine vessels and has held a captain’s license since 2002.  Marcus grew up spending time on Cedar Island and has been a member of the Wachapreague Volunteer Fire Department for more than 30 years.  

"I enjoy that I spend 90% of my time outdoors.  I love sharing my local experiences with the school groups we take out to Parramore Island."

Bo Lusk, Coastal Scientist


Bo grew up playing and working in the waters of the Eastern Shore.  He leads VVCR’s marine restoration work, including ongoing projects to restore oyster and eelgrass habitats, as well as working with partners to re-introduce the bay scallop to Virginia waters.

"I get to work in and help improve this incredible place to make it resilient for my children’s future and ensure its value for those of us who work and play here today."

Jennifer Miller, Preserve and Education Manager


Jenny provides unique, hands-on learning opportunities for both teachers and students in Accomack and Northampton Counties. She also manages the Brownsville Preserve and maintains the William B. Cummings Birding and Wildlife Trail for the public to explore.

“It is an amazing feeling to leave a part of ourselves in every project we do to protect and preserve this beautiful area that we share with the community.”

Jim McGowan, Land Protection Manager


Jim has called the Eastern Shore home for over 25 years.  He leads our land protection efforts, working with state, local, and private landowners as well as monitoring the 33,000 acres of land owned by TNC along with 70 private conservation easement properties that protect more than 13,000 acres.

"I like seeing so many beautiful properties on the Eastern Shore, and working with landowners to conserve them."

Zak Poulton, Coastal Biologist/Technology Specialist


Zak is part of VVCR’s shorebird and migratory bird team. A certified UAV pilot, Zak often finds himself out on the water or at the controls of a drone implementing the program’s monitoring, management, and research priorities. 

"Virginia’s barrier islands are a beautiful place to work with a great group of people with strong conservation values."

Alexandra Wilke, Coastal Scientist


Alex manages VVCR’s migratory bird program and is responsible for year-round stewardship of 50 miles of barrier island beaches.  She works with Federal and State partners along the entire Atlantic coast to integrate VVCR's efforts with broader bird conservation initiatives. 

“I love being part of protecting a unique and special place that I hope will still be here in its natural state for my boys to enjoy decades from now.” 

Margaret Van Clief, Outreach and Education Coordinator


Margaret works in the community to connect residents and Eastern Shore visitors with VVCR’s properties through public events and educational programming, both on and off the preserve.

"I love our community here on the Shore, and this job allows me to become more involved and connect people of all ages with nature."

Stay in Touch

Subscribe to the Volgenau Virginia Coast Reserve's quarterly e-newsletter. Get the latest news and updates about our conservation efforts, volunteer opportunities, and special events delivered straight to your inbox.

The Volgenau Virginia Coast Reserve is home to the longest expanse of coastal wilderness remaining on the east coast.  Brownsville Preserve and the barrier islands offer visitors unique natural experiences. 

Wooden sign at Brownsville Preserve standing among green ferns.
Brownsville Preserve Gateway to the Virginia Coast Reserve. © TNC

Brownsville Preserve

Birds and other wildlife abound at Brownsville Preserve. The William B. Cummings Birding and Wildlife Trail offers a round-trip hike of three miles through memorable coastal Virginia scenery.  Explore wooded uplands, take in expansive marsh views, and enjoy the variety of life all around you.

Visitors can also enjoy a treasure hunt in nature through one of our six geocaches.  Or download our self-guided audio tour—it's like having a naturalist in your pocket!

Leashed dogs are permitted at Brownsville on the William B. Cummings Birding and Wildlife Trail.  Dogs on the trail must be leashed at all times.

Dogs are not allowed on any of the Volgenau Virginia Coast Reserve islands.

Visit the Brownsville Preserve page for additional information to help you plan your trip.

Aerial view of Smith Island, a narrow stretch of sand backed by green scrub and fronted by gently lapping waves.
Virginia Barrier Islands Aerial views taken during flight from Smith Island to Parramore Island. © Peter Frank Edwards

Barrier Islands

Most TNC owned islands at the Volgenau Virginia Coast Reserve are open to the public for low-impact, recreational day use, such as hiking, bird watching, surf fishing and photography. These include Smith, Myrtle, Mink, Cobb, Rogue, Sandy, Parramore and Revel Islands and the TNC owned portions of Metompkin, Cedar and Hog Islands. 

Seasonal restrictions are in place to protect nesting birds—all areas above the high tide line are closed April through August. 

Little Cobb and Ship Shoal Islands are CLOSED to visitor use at all times for scientific research and safety reasons.

Visit the Barrier Islands preserve page for additional information.

We work closely with Federal, state, and local partners to achieve our conservation goals.


Coastal Resilience

Virginia's Eastern Shore lies within one of the U.S’s most vulnerable coastal regions. Sea levels are rising at three to four times the global average and storms are intensifying. But natural solutions can provide a first line of defense.

The Nature Conservancy is working with leading coastal scientists and community partners to explore and document the resilience inherent in the Eastern Shore's natural systems. We are using this living laboratory to better understand how nature can make coastal communities here—and everywhere—more resilient in the face of a changing climate. 


VVCR’s education program aims to connect public school students in Accomack and Northampton Counties to the natural world through experiential field trips.  The curriculum-based trips have been designed for 5th, 7th, and 10th grade students.  The field experiences were collaboratively designed with local educators through participatory workshops to ensure they are aligned with Virginia’s Standards of Learning (S.O.L.’s.)  


Through the Virginia Eastern Shore Conservation Alliance, we work with local, state, and federal partners, as well as private organizations, to conserve land in Accomack and Northampton counties. 

Over the years TNC has assisted Virginia’s departments of Conservation and RecreationGame and Inland Fisheries, and the Coastal Zone Management Program, to identify and conserve natural areas for wildlife and public access. 

We have partnered with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to add property to the Eastern Shore of Virginia National Wildlife Refuge, and helped develop the Cape Charles Bike and Hike Trail

One private partner, Virginia’s Eastern Shore Land Trust (VESLT), was established in 2003 to protect local farms, forests, and wetlands.  VESLT holds 76 conservation easements on 14,000 acres of land, including 1,037 acres that are co-held by The Nature Conservancy.  TNC and VESLT also partner in outreach and education efforts, including an annual 2nd grade field trip to VCR's Brownsville Preserve.


We worked with the Virginia Marine Resources Commission in 2015 to build two oyster reefs at Man and Boy Marsh.  Three additional reefs were constructed in 2016 at two sites at Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge that suffered serious damage from Hurricane Sandy.  These projects were funded by both the U.S. Department of Interior and the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation through funds established to support Hurricane Sandy recovery efforts. Other partners in our oyster reef restoration efforts include the National Park Service and Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries.

A decades-long partnership with the Virginia Institute of Marine Science (VIMS) has resulted in the largest and most successful seagrass restoration project in the world.  We're working together to build on this success by returning bay scallops to Virginia waters.  We're working with VIMS on an effort to produce and grow scallops from larvae to juvenile size.  3 million of VIMS’ bay scallop larvae are currently being raised in Conservancy setting tanks.  In 2017, we released 12.3 million bay scallop larvae that were spawned by VIMS and Cherrystone Aquafarms into the eelgrass in South Bay.  The hope is to eventually restore a self-sustaining population of bay scallops.


We work closely with many different partners to understand how bird populations use and depend on the Volgenau Virginia Coast Reserve for survival.  We use that information to understand range-wide conservation needs and guide local management actions to protect and build resilient migratory bird populations both in coastal Virginia and throughout the hemisphere.    


The largest and longest-lived ecological network in the United States, LTER brings together a multi-disciplinary group of scientists to study, document, and analyze environmental change at sites across the country.  The LTER program at the Virginia Coast Reserve began in 1987, and is administered through the Department of Environmental Sciences at the University of Virginia.  Research projects include studying how climate change, sea-level rise, and more—and more intense—coastal storms affect both human and natural communities on the Eastern Shore.

US Navy

We have worked with the US Navy since 2016 as part of their project to assess the winter population status of harbor and gray seals in the area. A group of approximately 50-80 seals routinely use TNC property at the Volgenau Virginia Coast Reserve to haul out. We also assist the Navy in deploying satellite tracking tags, successfully tagging 7 seals in 2018. We have learned a great deal about how the seals are using the area and the weather conditions that impact their behavior.

In March, 2019 VVCR staff assisted two members of the Virginia Aquarium & Marine Science Center Stranding Response Program with the release a young gray seal at a known haul out site on TNC property.  The team had cared for the animal for several days after it was found in a weak condition in the Back Bay area. The tagged seal was later observed in South Carolina at Myrtle Beach State Park and on the beach on Hilton Head Island.

Surveys initiated in November during the 2019/2020 season yielded a high count to date of 39 individual seals using TNC property as haul-out locations. TNC played an integral role during this survey season in initiating the use of trail cameras to monitor seal activity and investigate factors influencing behavior at haul-out sites. 

Gray seal release Virginia Aquarium & Marine Science Center Stranding Response team release a young gray seal at a known haul out site on TNC property.

Volunteers play an important role in all our programs.  Help support our work while connecting with nature in a meaningful way. 

Join the Brownsville Stewardship Crew

Stewardship workdays are typically held 1-2 times a month to complete projects such as trail maintenance, cutting and hauling limbs, building or repairing boardwalks, and cutting brush and overgrown vegetation. 

Gardening and Landscape Help

2-3 volunteers are needed 1-3 hours per week from mid-March through September to work in the garden at the Brownsville house. This will consist of weeding the kitchen garden and flower beds, trimming vegetation away from the house, mulching, and removing invasive Italian arum. Tools provided on-site. 

Bluebird Box Monitoring

This is a great opportunity for birders! Volunteers are needed to check bluebird boxes, fill out data sheets, and take photos as part of our bluebird monitoring at Brownsville Preserve. Volunteers will work as a team (monitoring individually) to ensure the bluebird boxes are monitored once a week (preferably the same day each week), starting the first week of April and running through August. It typically takes 2 hours each visit. 



For information about these or other volunteer opportunities, please contact Jen Dalke, volunteer program manager, by email at or cell 540-335-1302. 

Stay in Touch

Subscribe to the Volgenau Virginia Coast Reserve's quarterly e-newsletter. Get the latest news and updates about our conservation efforts, volunteer opportunities, and special events delivered straight to your inbox.

Program Milestones and Achievements

Make a Difference

For 50 years, our work at the Virginia Coast Reserve (VCR) has helped to protect the longest expanse of coastal wilderness remaining on the East Coast. Will you help us continue this work?