over Virginia's Eastern Shore, December 3, 2017.
Super moon over Virginia's Eastern Shore, December 3, 2017. © Jennifer Davis/TNC

Places We Protect

Brownsville Preserve


Explore the Virginia Coast Reserve through this gateway preserve.

Birds and other wildlife abound at Brownsville Preserve. From the boardwalk and trails traversing this historic farm, you may see deer, fox, raccoons, blue herons, bald eagles, wild turkeys and many other species of birds.

The Conservancy manages Brownsville to enhance bird habitat, and the farm serves as headquarters for the Virginia Coast Reserve.

History of Brownsville

Until the Conservancy purchased Brownsville in 1978, the farm had remained in the Upshur family since 1652.

At one time, the owner ran a castor-oil mill on the property. From his wharf on Brownsville Creek, he also shipped huge loads of corn to New York and New England via chartered vessels.

According to Whitelaw's Virginia's Eastern Shore, Mr. Upshur added a frame wing onto the family's 1806 three-story brick home because of the many relatives who lived there. He is claimed to have said, "There is no place to put the sole of my foot."

The historic Brownsville house continues to welcome neighbors and guests during VCR's annual Holiday Open House and Open Farm events.

What TNC Is Doing

In partnership with the Virginia Department of Game & Inland Fisheries and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's Partners for Fish and Wildlife Program, the Conservancy placed Brownsville Preserve in the Wildlife Enhancement Program. We have created shallow-water impoundments and planted crops and hedgerows that enhance habitat for birds.

Brownsville also hosts the Virginia Coast Reserve office, and a dock on the property is a launching point for staff members heading out to work on the barrier islands.

Visit the Virginia Coast Reserve landing page to learn more about our land protection, migratory bird, and marine habitat restoration work as well as our education and community outreach programs.

Plan Your Visit

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.

Numbers on the map correspond with markers along the trail. Refer to the trail guide for information on these points of interest.

Bring your binoculars, field guides, and a camera. Especially in warm weather, don't forget insect and tick repellent!

moonrise over Brownsville Preserve
Brownsville Preserve
Explore this 1,250-acre historic farm and headquarters for the Virginia Coast Reserve.

Brownsville Preserve Enjoying birding and nature hikes at the gateway to the Virginia Coast Reserve

Know Before You Go

Please help us protect this area by observing these guidelines:

  • Leashed dogs are permitted on the William B. Cummings Birding and Wildlife Trail ONLY
  • Dogs on the trail must be leashed at all times
  • Dogs are not allowed on any of the Virginia Coast Reserve islands
  • Bike are permitted at Brownsville.
  • Please hike or bike only on the designated marked trail and respect the areas marked private or no trespassing
  • No horseback riding. No ATVs.
  • Preserve closes at 1/2 hour after sunset, daily. For safety during the deer hunting season, visitor hours at 9:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. (October through early January)
  • Camping and fires are not permitted
  • Wear sensible shoes, carry drinking water, and don't forget insect repellent. Beware of poison ivy and check for ticks after hiking
  • Respect the safety of all visitors and wildlife and please do not collect anything (take only pictures and leave only footprints)

You may also wish to combine your visit to Brownsville with other Eastern Shore sites on the Virginia Birding and Wildlife Trail.

Before your trip to Brownsville, download and save the audio tour map and mp3 audio files to your handheld device.  It's like having a naturalist in your pocket!

The numbers marked on the map correspond to the audio files in the self-guided tour.  Play the corresponding track when you reach a waypoint along the trail. Listen to them all or pick and choose based on your interests!


Beverly Watson is a native of the Nassawadox area where Brownsville preserve is located.  Beverly retired from TNC in 2017, after working as Brownsville's office manager for more than 15 years.  She found it gratifying to be a small part of ongoing projects and programs to conserve the natural resources on the Eastern Shore of Virginia that is so well loved by so many people. 

Joanne Laskowski started her career as an Environmental Educator and went on to receive a Master's degree in Ecology from Rutgers University with an emphasis on Ornithology.  She retired from Talbot County Public Schools after 22 years as the Science Supervisor and 1-1 Laptop Coordinator.  Currently she conducts piping plover surveys for Chincoteague NWR and the Conservancy and coordinates the Eastern Shore Master Naturalist Basic Training class under Dot Field. 

Charlottesville native Margaret Van Clief moved to the Eastern Shore of Virginia in 2008. Since then, she has worked seasonally as a Kayak Eco-Tour Guide in the warm months and as a Marine Field Technician for The Nature Conservancy's seaside oyster restoration effort in the cold.  She has developed a devotion to the natural gifts of the Shore as strong as her love of the people. Margaret now holds the position of Outreach & Education Coordinator for the Conservancy's Virginia Coast Reserve which is, quite literally, her dream job. And she is never leaving.

Heather Eggleston has a Bachelor’s of Science Degree in Environmental Studies and tons of life experience gallivanting in the natural world.  She has worked as a seasonal technician for the Conservancy for three years.  In 2015 she was the Marine Technician at the Virginia Coast Reserve.  She enjoys spending long periods of time in the woods and photographing unusual mushrooms.  

Frederick, MD native Victor Klein moved to the Eastern Shore four years ago.  He completed a Master Naturalist course in 2014 and is an avid birder.

Resources for Download

Geocaching is a fast-growing hobby that provides an exciting way to explore the outdoors. Players try to locate hidden containers, called geocaches, using a smartphone or GPS, and can then share their experiences online.  It's a great way for kids to connect with nature and learn navigation skills, with the fun reward of finding real hidden treasure.

We invite you to explore the Conservancy's natural areas in this fun and free way.  It's a great hobby, and you may learn a little about our work as you play!

Log on to www.geocaching.com to set up a free account.  

Know Before You Go

  • Caches are only accessible during normal hours of operation.
  • Stay on marked trails at all times.
  • Leashed dogs are permitted on the William B. Cummings Birding and Wildlife Trail ONLY.  
  • Dogs on the trail must be leashed at all times.
  • Dogs are not allowed on any of the Virginia Coast Reserve islands.
  • Do not litter; used marked receptacles to dispose of any trash.
  • Please respect the land; do not remove plants, animals, artifacts, or rocks.
  • For your safety and comfort, bring drinking water, hats, sun protection, bug repellent and use appropriate footwear.

New geocaches are not permitted on Conservancy preserves. These sites were carefully selected for their accessibility and low impact to the environment. For questions about geocaching at Brownsville Preserve, please contact Margaret Van Clief, Outreach and Education Coordinator, at mvanclief@tnc.org.