Volunteer Al McKegg collects eelgrass shoots in South Bay, Eastern Shore of Virginia.
Restoration Success Volunteer Al McKegg collects eelgrass shoots in South Bay, Eastern Shore of Virginia. © Alex Novak/The Nature Conservancy

Stories in Virginia

Volunteer in Virginia

There is more than one way to volunteer for TNC in Virginia!

In 2018, nearly 1,000 volunteers contributed over 6,000 hours and helped with more than 100 projects, including preserve trail monitoring, oyster and seagrass restoration, avian monitoring, invasive species control, watershed clean-up, data entry and more!

For more information, download the volunteer application and liability release form or contact Jennifer Dalke, volunteer program manager, at jdalke@tnc.org.

In addition to participating in work days, trail maintenance and cleanups, our volunteers perform internet research, help at events and complete administrative tasks in the office. Some needs we regularly seek to fill include:

  • Preserve Monitors: Assist with regular monitoring at one of our preserve (approximately 4-6 visits per year) to assess the condition and needs of the preserve and keep us informed of any issues.
  • Volunteer Photography/Videography: Take pictures and/or video throughout the year for use in the Virginia chapter's publications, website and social media.
  • Social Media: Share posts from the chapter's FacebookInstagram and Twitter accounts with your personal networks to help spread the word about our work across the commonwealth.


July 2015 - July 2019.
Volunteer Contributions July 2015 - July 2019. © TNC
  • Annual report highlighting growing volunteer programs and partnerships across The Nature Conservancy.

    2018 Volunteer Annual Report

    (17.24 MB PDF)

    Highlights from across the US and around the world of TNC's growing volunteer programs and partnerships.



Each year since 2016, the Virginia Chapter has partnered with Fairfax County Park Authority in Northern Virginia to host a Chesapeake Bay watershed cleanup.

The goal of the cleanup is to keep trash and debris out of waterways that flow into the bay.  In April 2018, volunteers and staff came out in force despite frigid temperatures and a threat of snow. 602 volunteers gave over 1,500 hours of service at 8 different parks.

2019 marks the largest volunteer event TNC in Virginia has ever accomplished!

Over 4 workdays, 1,100 volunteers gave 2,658 hours of service across 21 Fairfax County parks, removing 8.6 tons of trash along 65 miles of stream, shoreline, roadways, and trails.

During the first weekend alone, 905 volunteers fanned out across 15 parks, giving more than 2,000 hours of volunteer service to collect an estimated 6.8 tons of trash along 45 miles of stream, shoreline, and trails.

The most common items found during our cleanups include plastic bottles and bags, cans, cigarette butts, styrofoam, and glass bottles. 

While the numbers are impressive, it’s the stories that make this effort successful, too. Many volunteers express how the cleanup impacted their children and how it “opened their eyes” to some of the environmental challenges we face. We also get a lot of people asking how they can continue to make a difference.

The Nature Conservancy and the Virginia Institute of Marine Science (VIMS), along with several partners in the Seaside Heritage Seagrass Community Restoration Program, will soon begin the 2019 chapter of the largest seagrass restoration project in the world!  

And you can be a part of it.

In the early 1930s, a noxious slime mold and the powerful Chesapeake-Potomac Hurricane combined to devastate seagrass meadows in Virginia’s coastal bays. The Seaside Seagrass Community Restoration Program has been conducting highly successful efforts to restore eelgrass in the nearby coastal bays since 1999. 

Each spring since 2008, 40 to 60 volunteers have signed on and suited up to collect eelgrass (Zostera marina), a simple seagrass that once thrived in the coastal bays of Virginia. Over the past decade nearly 500 volunteers have given 2,175 hours to the effort.

Volunteers collect reproductive shoots containing ripe seeds from the underwater plants. The shoots are measured into water tanks where the seeds are then cured, separated, and prepared for fall planting. 

VIMS and The Nature Conservancy have broadcast more than 72 million seeds into 600 acres to help accelerate the natural spread of eelgrass, which now covers almost 9,000 acres in South, Spider Crab, Hog Island and Cobb Island bays.

To receive more information about the largest seagrass restoration in the world, please contact Jen Dalke, volunteer coordinator, at jdalke@tnc.org.

  • Volunteering

    Volunteers should be comfortable with snorkeling and being underwater. During low-tide collection, the water will be about waist deep.

    Collection takes place in the seagrass meadows of South Bay off Oyster, Virginia, on the Eastern Shore. Volunteers will be leaving the dock in Oyster at varying times based on the tide.

    Volunteers board an open 24’ Carolina Skiff to get to the collection site. We can only transport those who are actually collecting.

    If it’s not too rough out, we can take as many as 10 volunteers on the boat, but we prefer only 8. On days with more than 10 volunteers, we have to find a second boat and captain which is usually a 24’ Privateer holding about 8 volunteers.


    Trips typically last from 4-5 hours.

  • Seed Collection Dates

    The eelgrass shoots appear to be developing right on schedule. The water has just started warming up and our best guess is that we will be able to start collecting within the May 28-June 5 window.

    Collection Dates

    Volunteers meet and depart from the Oyster Boat Ramp. Trips typically last 4-5 hours.

    • Tue, May 28—8:30 AM
    • Wed, May 29—9:15 AM
    • Thur, May 30—9:30 AM
    • Fri, May 31—10:45 AM
    • Sat, June 1—11:30 AM
    • Sun, June 2—12 PM
    • Mon, June 3—1 PM
    • Tue, June 4—1:45 PM
    • Wed, June 5—2 PM

    The collection schedule is dependent on weather, as well as seed ripening. We try to collect a few days before peak ripening, during peak ripening and a few days after peak ripening, all of which can be difficult to predict.

    Weather and timing are variable, and trips may change on short notice. It is important that volunteers are flexible. For those who are inexperienced, we highly encourage you to sign up for at least two collection days. 

    It is very important to show up if you sign up so that we can plan transportation and logistics appropriately.  Trips typically last from 4-5 hours.  If you have not collected before, we highly encourage you to sign up for at least two collection days.

  • Cancellation Policy

    It is important to note that volunteers need to be flexible, as collection trips may be cancelled last minute due to conditions: choppy water, wind, etc. It is the volunteer’s responsibility to determine if a collection date has been cancelled.

    The Nature Conservancy is not responsible for any lodging, equipment or travel costs incurred if a collection date is cancelled.

    We will send you an email if the workday is cancelled.  If you would prefer to have a phone call or text, please contact Jen Dalke at jdalke@tnc.org or 540-335-1302.

  • Gear

    You will need a face mask, snorkel, towel(s), swim suit, snacks/water and sunscreen. If you have a wetsuit, please bring it.

    We have 10 wetsuits in various sizes from men’s S-XXL, but choice tends to run to the smaller sizes. Most of the wetsuits are 3/2mm which is lightweight.

    If you have a wetsuit hood, bring it as you may get cold. You may need to share wetsuits if you don’t have one. Face masks and snorkels are also available on a limited basis.

    The water temperature will be around 65-70 degrees F. You may also prefer some type of water shoe. You are responsible for your personal gear. 70 degrees sounds warm, but after an hour you will get chilly. Dress in layers.

  • Training

    There will be on-site training each collection day. Volunteers will be trained on how to identify the reproductive shoots of the eelgrass plant and how to collect and bag them along with other related educational information.

  • Traveling

    The Chesapeake Bay Bridge Tunnel has toll charges. Visit the CBBT website for cost information and other details.

  • Lodging

    If overnight accommodations are needed, please contact one of the following local businesses for rates and availability. 

  • Partners

    Our thanks to the partners who make this event possible.

Which city on Earth has the most nature and the most engaged residents? The City Nature Challenge aims to find out!

Explore Your World

The City Nature Challenge encourages people to discover and document the biodiversity of our urban spaces. What began in 2016 as a friendly challenge between Los Angeles and San Francisco has now grown to an international event!

The 2019 City Nature Challenge took place April 26 - 29. 

The 4-day challenge connects local communities with the value of urban biodiversity, while also collecting important data for scientists, land managers, non-profits, and governments about the areas that they help to protect. 

The City Nature Challenge is organized by the California Academy of Sciences and the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County. Visit citynaturechallenge.org to see a complete list of participating cities around the world!

Get Involved

It’s easy to get involved using the iNaturalist app (free on the app store). Just take a picture of a plant or animal and upload it to the app.  Any observations made in the Charlottesville or Richmond challenge areas will count during the four day challenge. 

You don't have to join an organized outing to be a part of the City Nature Challenge.  Explore your neighborhood parks—or even your own backyard.  There's nature all around you!

After the challenge, we'll need help identifying the observations recorded in iNaturalist. The more observations we get down to species level, the more species we get in our tally! It also provides valuable data for scientists, land managers, non-profits, and governments about the areas that they help to protect.

Taking part is easy!
City Nature Challenge Taking part is easy! © TNC

Support the Conservancy with your eyes, ears and muscles! Become a Volunteer Preserve Visitation Committee member.

Regular preserve monitoring and maintenance keeps us informed about their condition, while promoting TNC's mission and supporting the ecological goals for which each preserve was established.

But with many preserves to manage around the commonwealth, it is not always possible to monitor them as often as we would like. 

We are looking for long-term, committed people to join our volunteer visitation committees.  Committee members conduct routine surveys of our public preserves four to six times per year to assess the condition and needs of the preserve.  Team members also perform basic trail maintenance by removing debris, fallen branches, overgrown vegetation and trash as needed.

Please contact Jen Dalke, volunteer coordinator, at (434) 951-0572 or jdalke@tnc.org to receive further information.

Positions are available at:

About the Program

  • Essential Functions

    Team members will visit the preserve on a regular, rotating calendar schedule, approximately 4-6 visits per year, to assess the condition and needs of the preserve.

    When making a visit, members should thoroughly inspect the property by walking trails and various areas of the preserve while carrying a tool to observe for the following:

    • Instances of trespassing and land abuse (trash dumping, unauthorized trail use, etc.)
    • Condition of the parking areas, gates, kiosks, signs, trails and boundaries (vandalism, tree blow downs, erosion damage, etc.).

    Preserve Trail Monitor team members should also perform basic trail maintenance by removing debris, fallen branches, overgrown vegetation and trash as needed. Members will report problems and issues to the Virginia chapter's volunteer program manager.

  • Basic Qualifications
    • Demonstrated interest in the management of nature preserves and commitment to the mission of The Nature Conservancy.
    • Basic physical fitness to hike moderately challenging outdoor terrain and physical ability to operate hand tools such as loppers and hand saws safely.
    • Self transportation to and from site.
    • Willingness to participate in training sessions and attend committee gatherings and meetings.
  • Related Responsibilities
    • Complete and submit a preserve monitoring inspection form after preserve visits.
    • Suggest ideas for improvement projects to accommodate future preserve needs.
  • Commitment

    Flexible, depends on personal interest in maintaining preserve; ideally, 4-6 days per year or more. The ultimate goal is to have the preserve visited every week by someone on the monitoring team.

Want to be a part of our conservation efforts on Virginia’s Eastern Shore? Opportunities are available as an island or boat ramp steward.

Island steward is a volunteer position best suited for a person who lives on the Eastern Shore of Virginia who visits The Nature Conservancy’s barrier islands by their own means and would like to serve as a Conservancy representative on these occasions

Boat ramp steward is a position for someone who is interested in volunteering to distribute educational brochures at seaside boat ramps on weekends, especially holiday weekends, throughout the summer.

Volunteer stewards act as official representatives of TNC’s Virginia Coast Reserve program, to educate visitors about the sensitive natural resources of VCR’s barrier islands by talking with visitors and handing out brochures as needed. The steward’s educational efforts focus on, but are not limited to, breeding shorebirds and colonial waterbirds. Duties include:

  • Attend annual training sessions at TNC’s office in Nassawadox, typically held in early spring.
  • When on the islands and engaging in stewardship responsibilities, educate visitors about the sensitive natural resources on the islands through casual conversation and distribution of informational literature.
  • Report incidences of use-policy violations immediately to Conservancy staff.


Commitment: No regular island visitation schedule will be set; steward responsibilities will be on an on-going, opportunistic basis, when stewards choose to visit the islands. Stewards interested in volunteering at boat ramps can set their own schedule and report days and hours spent to Conservancy staff.

Qualifications include:

  • Local eastern shore resident.
  • Excellent communication skills which can positively and effectively, yet casually, teach all island visitors.
  • Desire to help protect the biodiversity of the Virginia Coast Reserve through education of island visitors.
  • Must have transportation to get on and off the islands, as well as familiarity with the local waterways unless only interested in volunteering at boat ramps.
  • Must undergo a background check (requires SSN) and Nature Conservancy Youth Safety Qualifications prior to volunteering which will take 1.5-2 hours of time.


If interested please contact Jen Dalke, volunteer program manager, at jdalke@tnc.org or 434-951-0572 (w) or 540-335-1302 (c).