A kayak offers the best way to enjoy the sights and sounds of this watery wilderness.
Dragon Flats A kayak offers the best way to enjoy the sights and sounds of this watery wilderness. © Andy Lacatell / TNC

Places We Protect

Dragon Flats Preserve


Paddle down Dragon Run, part of Virginia's most pristine blackwater stream.

Dragon Flats Preserve, though restricted to visitors, can still be seen and enjoyed by paddling down Dragon Run.

Widely considered Virginia's most pristine blackwater stream,  Dragon Run meanders for nearly 40 miles through remote portions of four eastern Virginia counties. Near Saluda, the Dragon widens to form the Piankatank River, a tributary of the Chesapeake Bay.

In 1976, The Nature Conservancy joined with the Chesapeake Bay Foundation to commission a Smithsonian Institute study of 232 rivers and streams in the Chesapeake Bay watershed. Dragon Run ranked second in terms of ecological significance.

What TNC Has Done/Is Doing

Since 2001, the Conservancy has worked closely with partners such as Virginia’s Department of Forestry and Friends of Dragon Run to help conserve nearly 9,000 acres in the forest block surrounding Dragon Run.

In 2008, the Conservancy transferred more than 1,800 acres to the Virginia Department of Forestry, establishing Dragon Run State Forest. The state forest provides opportunities for sound forestry and public recreation, while protecting water quality in the Dragon and, ultimately, the Chesapeake Bay.

Land conservation along Dragon Run preserves traditional land uses that have endured for at least four centuries. It’s also critical to protecting and restoring the Chesapeake Bay downstream and its embattled species such as our native oyster. 

Since 2014, The Nature Conservancy has been supporting the construction of a large-scale oyster sanctuary downstream in the Piankatank River.

Dragon Flats Preserve features a striking bald cypress swamp where bald eagles and songbirds nest. The preserve follows the waterfront for a mile and a half and helps form a mosaic of connected conservation areas.

Friends of Dragon Run, our local partner, offers guided paddle trips, as well as a nature trail accessible at the Route 603 bridge near Mascot. Dragon Run State Forest also offers recreational opportunities.

Dragon Flats
Paddle down Dragon Run, part of Virginia's most pristine blackwater stream.

Dragon Flats Preserve Dragon Flats Preserve, though restricted to visitors, can still be seen and enjoyed by paddling down Dragon Run.

We invite you to experience and enjoy preserves where we provide public access, but remember that every visitor has an impact. Please follow our visitation guidelines to protect yourself and nature.

  • Preserves are open to the public during daylight hours. 
  • Passive recreation such as walking, bird watching, and photography is welcomed. 


  • Bringing dogs onto the preserve
  • Picking flowers, mushrooms, etc.
  • Removing rocks or other parts of the landscape
  • Smoking
  • Camping
  • Fires or cookouts
  • Driving motorized vehicles, including ATV’s, except on designated access roads
  • Biking, except at Brownsville Preserve
  • Fishing, trapping or hunting, except as otherwise posted
  • Horseback riding
  • Feeding wildlife
  • Releasing animals or introducing plants
  • Disposing of trash or other waste, including biodegradable materials


  • Stay on trails.
  • Avoid walking in wet, boggy areas.
  • Inspect pant legs and shoes to remove seeds before entering and when leaving the preserve. Failure to do so could introduce invasive weeds to new locations.
  • If you flush a ground nesting bird, stop and avoid walking near the nest area.
  • Observe all posted signs.
  • Please do not remove stakes, signs, flagging, tape or similar objects. These may be markers for a research project.
  • Please do not trespass on private property adjacent to preserves.

For your own comfort and enjoyment, come prepared. Wear comfortable shoes for hiking, pack rain gear, and wear long pants with socks over them to protect yourself from ticks and poison ivy. Always remember to bring water, as dehydration is a serious year-round threat.

If you observe any illegal activity on a preserve such as ATV use, do not confront the offenders yourself. However, do feel free to call local law enforcement.

Enjoy your visit and please report any problems you encounter at a preserve to the Virginia Chapter at 434-295-6106.