The work we do at the Virginia Coast Reserve 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.
VCR'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 VCR offer visitors unique natural experiences.
Explore our stories below to learn more about our coastal resilience, land protection, migratory bird, and marine habitat restoration work as well as our education and community outreach programs.
The Virginia Coast Reserve Story
A look back at the history of the Virginia Coast Reserve and 50 years of conservation.
Connect with the 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
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 Virginia Coast Reserve
Jill brings more than 25 years of experience in marine science and environmental education to her role as director of the Virginia Coast Reserve. Prior to joining the Conservancy, 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 VCR 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 VCR. He maintains VCR’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 VCR’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 the Conservancy 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 VCR’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 VCR’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 VCR'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
"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."
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 Virginia Coast Reserve islands.
Visit the Brownsville Preserve page for additional information to help you plan your trip.
Most TNC owned islands at the 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.
- University of Virginia Long Term Ecological Research (LTER)
- College of William and Mary’s Virginia Institute of Marine Science (VIMS)
- Virginia Marine Resources Commission
- US Fish and Wildlife Service
- Virginia Departments of Environmental Quality, Game and Inland Fisheries, and Conservation and Recreation
- Local government and private landowners
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.
- Accomack-Northampton Planning District Commission
- University of Virginia’s Long-Term Ecological Research Project
- Virginia Institute of Marine Science’s Center for Coastal Resource Management
- University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
- Randolph-Macon College
- Duke University
- University of North Carolina-Wilmington
- Natural Capital Project
- The Brosnan Center for Risk Reduction
- NASA-Wallops Flight Facility
- U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge
- ARCADIS US, Inc.
- Warren-Pinnacle Consulting, Inc.
VCR’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 Recreation, Game 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 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.
- Center for Conservation Biology at the College of William and Mary
- Virginia Tech
- US Fish & Wildlife Service
- Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries
- Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation
- Virginia Marine Resources Commission
- Virginia Coastal Zone Management Program
- NASA/Wallops Flight Facility
- Coastal Virginia Wildlife Observatory
- National Park Service
- USDA Virginia Wildlife Service
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 VCR 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.
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 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 VCR 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. In late March, VCR staff will be part of a capture team attempting to attach satellite tags to as many as 17 individual seals.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org or cell 540-335-1302.
Program Milestones and Achievements
- UNESCO Man and the Biosphere Program
- Audubon Global Important Bird Area
- U.S. Department of the Interior National Natural Landmark
- National Science Foundation Long-Term Ecological Research site
- Western Hemisphere International Shorebird Reserve Network site
- Protection, with partners, of over 115,000 acres on Virginia’s Eastern Shore
- Ownership of some 40,000 acres of barrier islands, marshes and uplands
- Partnership approaches to protecting and managing 50 miles of barrier islands for thousands of nesting shorebirds and colonial waterbirds
- Partnership approaches to restoring more than 50 acres of oyster reefs; the management and monitoring of over 100 acres of oyster reefs; and the restoration of over 4,500 acres of seagrass and the re-introduction of bay scallops in the coastal bays
- Numerous contract awards for a ground-breaking conservation and restoration projects
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