Places We Protect

Clinch River


The biologically rich Clinch River.
The Clinch River The biologically rich Clinch River. © Byron Jorjorian

The Clinch River watershed is the number one hotspot in the U.S. for imperiled aquatic species.



Why the Conservancy Selected This Site
The Clinch and Powell Rivers are formed in the Appalachian Mountains of southwestern Virginia, and are considered the only ecologically intact (undammed) headwaters of the Tennessee River system.

Rare and endangered species abound here. The Clinch River sustains 48 imperiled and vulnerable animal species, including 29 varieties of rare freshwater mussels and 19 species of fish. Rare plants, mammals and birds also thrive along the river's edge.

Because of this concentration of rare animals, the Clinch River basin has been identified as the number-one hotspot in the U.S. for imperiled aquatic species.

Significantly, the Clinch Valley's land, water and natural resources also sustain human communities and their economies. The socioeconomic conditions of the area are defined by high unemployment and economic disparity. Our challenge is therefore to develop and promote economically compatible approaches to conservation that not only protect the Clinch River as a natural resource but also allow for its sustainable economic use. Declining water quality, a legacy of coal mining and unsustainable agricultural practices are the primary threats to the Powell and the Clinch Rivers today.



Explore our work in this region

35 varieties of freshwater mussels and 19 rare fish species call the Clinch River home, including the pygmy madtom, a tiny, endangered catfish that is found in only one other river — the Duck River, in Tennessee. 

What the Conservancy Has Done/Is Doing
Beginning in 1990, The Nature Conservancy targeted the watersheds of the Clinch and Powell rivers as part of the "Last Great Places" ecosystem conservation program. A joint project of the Virginia and Tennessee chapters, the Clinch Valley Program has seven staff members working from field offices in Abingdon, Virginia and Hancock County, Tennessee. The Conservancy owns seven preserves in the Clinch Valley.

Actions taken by the Conservancy include:

  • Protecting Kyles Ford, an 850-acre stretch of the Clinch River in Hancock County, which is now a Tennessee Wildlife Management Area open to the public for hunting, fishing and outdoor recreation. The centerpiece of the new preserve is the Kyles Ford mussel shoal, a shallow section of the Clinch River that contains at least 35 mussel species.
  • Helping in the creation of citizens' initiatives for sustainable growth, including the Russell County Vision Forum and another similar program in St. Paul, Virginia.
  • Joining hands with the residents of Hancock County, Tennessee to purchase and renovate the century-old Vardy Church to serve as a community meeting place, historical archive, and natural resource information center.
  • Cooperative Management Agreements - These agreements help local farmers to adopt agricultural best management practices to safeguard the rivers, creeks and caves on their property from water pollution. The Nature Conservancy has completed 65 such agreements with tobacco and cattle farmers in Hancock County, Tennessee and Virginia.

    Learn more about The Nature Conservancy's crucial conservation work on rivers and streams in the U.S. and abroad.