A bay scallop sits on the sandy bottom of a coastal bay between shoots of seagrass. Two rows of bright blue eyes dots the edges of the scallop's shell.
Coastal Recovery TNC's successful efforts to restore eelgrass to Virginia's coastal bays has created conditions and habitat for the return of bay scallops. © Jay Fleming

Stories in Virginia

Our Virginia: 2020 Impact Report

Conservation successes from across the commonwealth.

Virginia chapter Executive Director Locke Ogens. A smiling woman wearing binoculars poses in a forest clearing.
Locke Ogens Executive Director, The Nature Conservancy in Virginia © Kyle LaFerriere

From the Director: An Unwavering Commitment

It’s often said that a crisis doesn’t build character; it reveals it. This past year has presented nearly overwhelming challenges. In conservation, as in every other aspect of our lives, we’ve encountered frustrations and setbacks. Yet I am greatly heartened by the positivity and persistence with which our whole Virginia team has adapted to new ways of working.

Moreover, I am deeply gratified by the unwavering passion and commitment to conservation of supporters like you. Even in these anxious and uncertain times, you have risen to the occasion, helped keep our priorities on track and propelled us toward some big conservation victories that would be remarkable in any year.

I hope you will be as inspired as I am by the success stories in this issue, as well as by the years and, often, decades of sustained effort and leadership required to achieve these results. One thing this year has made clear is the enormous value of investing in resilient natural systems, as so many people have found solace and comfort in nature.

“Protection is nature’s vaccine, and one that we need to deploy around the world for the benefit of all species, including our own,” Jeffrey Parrish, a TNC global managing director, wrote this summer. I sincerely thank you for joining us in our endeavor to create a healthier future for nature and people. Working together, with purpose and determination, we can make all the difference in the world.

2020 Impact Report: What's Inside

VCR 50th anniversary logo. A blue circle is enclosed by the words Virginia Coast Reserve with 50 Years in the center.
1970 - 2020 Celebrating 50 years of conservation. © TNC

A Shore Success

The Volgenau Virginia Coast Reserve celebrates 50 years of community-based conservation, innovation and groundbreaking science.
A woman wearing a face mask is shown in profile looking off to her right. She holds a clipboard and papers for recording fie
Wetlands Monitoring Monitoring plant life at a VARTF restoration site. © Daniel White/TNC

In Water We Trust

Over the last 25 years the Virginia Aquatic Resources Trust Fund (VARTF) has proven the wisdom of investing in wetlands and streams and in restoring the natural services they provide to everyone.

TNC Virginia trustee Dr. Mamie Parker. An African-American woman poses for a portrait standing in front of a large pond.
Dr. Mamie Parker Dr. Mamie Parker serves on the Board of Directors of the Virginia Chapter of The Nature Conservancy. © Alex Snyder/TNC

Conservation and Race

A conversation with Dr. Mamie Parker, TNC Virginia trustee and the first African-American woman to lead Fisheries and a regional office at the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

A woman wearing a yellow life preserver bends down to place a mesh bag filled with oyster shells on a reef at low tide.
Springing Into Service Building up new oyster reef. © Daniel White/TNC

Higher Education

Providing our next generation of conservationists with opportunities to study in some of the world’s most extraordinary living laboratories.

Spotlight: Conservation in the Time of Covid

A man stands next to a shallow beaver pond. Two green mountain ridges come together in a vee in the background.
Highland Highlights Allegheny Highlands Program Director Blair Smyth explores a beaver pond on land placed under permanent conservation easement by donor Fitz Gary. June 2020 © John Blackburn / TNC

As we all face a global crisis unlike any in recent memory, our primary concern remains the health of our loved ones, colleagues and communities. But recent experience has also underscored our urgent need to keep working toward a sustainable future. 

To that end, The Nature Conservancy’s Virginia team has grappled with anxieties and, ultimately, demonstrated our resolve. We’ve adapted to new ways of working, while finding new inspiration and hope from our communities and our shared sense of purpose in protecting the natural systems on which life depends.


On a clear, sunny June morning, Blair Smyth and a small group of TNC colleagues form a circle outside the compact Blue Grass, Virginia, post office. It’s the first foray back in the field for the group after three months of interacting through computer screens, and the excitement at the rendezvous is palpable, despite face coverings and the minimum six feet of distance between each person. “We’ve got a cave to find,” Smyth says, dispersing the group to its ultimate destination.

A bearded man looks back over his shoulder while balancing against a steep rock face in front of a small cave opening.
Highland Highlights Cave exploring with Blair Smyth. © John Blackburn / TNC

Smyth, who heads TNC’s Allegheny Highlands team, leads the way out of the valley and onto a rough track hugging the edge of a forested slope. Below, Straight Fork is anything but straight as its braided course meanders for two miles through valley meadows and countless beaver ponds. Smyth finally eases to a stop and, following directions from locals, points the way up a steep, muddy mountainside. The goal is to follow a side stream to where it reportedly gushes forth from the mouth of a cave. 

After forging upwards roughly the length of two football fields, the group finds the cave, taking turns scrambling up from the stream to explore a dark rift in the rocky mountain.

Completing the cave quest is a cherry on top of a productive day exploring and documenting a recent conservation easement encompassing over 1,800 acres. “The most impressive thing about this project is just the sheer diversity of the habitat we’re conserving up here,” says Smyth. “I mean, you’ve got everything from this cave system to trout streams to beaver meadows to spruce-fir forest to a grove of massive old sugar maples.”

Connecting the Highlands

Take a virtual trip to explore the Fitz Gary easement.

Read More

Moreover, the property’s strategic location stands to make an even bigger conservation impact, preserving vital habitat corridors that connect Virginia’s George Washington and Jefferson National Forests with West Virginia’s Monongahela National Forest.

This project was made possible through the vision and generosity of landowner Fitz Gary, who donated a permanent conservation easement on the entire property in December 2019. In 2020, Gary donated 1,824 acres outright to TNC for preservation.

Having recently returned to Virginia after living for years in northern California, Gary compares his first impression of the land he’s owned since 1972 and adjacent Blue Grass Valley as “almost as overwhelming as driving into Yosemite.”

  • Cover of the 2020 Virginia Impact Report.

    Our Virginia: 2020 Impact Report

    Conservation highlights and successes from across the commonwealth.

  • Cover of the 2020 Virginia Impact Report.

    Nuestra Virginia: Informe de Impacto 2020

    Nuestra Virginia: Informe de Impacto 2020 ahora está por descargar disponible en español!


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?