Places We Protect

Dragon Flats Preserve


A man sitting in a red kayak wearing a yellow vest floats down a flat water stream. The wide channel is lined with tall cypress trees, some leafed out, some dead snags.
Dragon Flats A kayak offers the best way to enjoy the sights and sounds of this watery wilderness. © Andy Lacatell / TNC

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 and site of a large-scale oyster sanctuary.

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.



Please note: dogs are not allowed at this preserve.


For information about guided paddle trips, contact Friends of Dragon Run.


495 acres. The watershed encompasses 90,000 acres, nearly a quarter of which is under conservation management.

Explore our work in Virginia

A smiling woman stands underneath a tall preserve sign that reads, Friends of Dragon Run Teta Kain Nature Preserve, Open Dawn to Dusk.
Queen of the Dragon Longtime paddle master and member of Friends of the Dragon, Teta Kain, poses during the dedication of a preserve named in her honor. © Andy Lacatell / TNC

Queen of the Dragon

Celebrating Teta Kain

You would be hard pressed to find a more ardent supporter of Dragon Run than Teta Kain. A key leader within Friends of Dragon Run for 35 years, she led more than a thousand individuals on paddles through the watershed. 

On June 22, 2023, a crowd gathered in Middlesex County to honor Teta's contributions at an official dedication of the Teta Kain Nature Preserve. A new sign will greet canoeists, birders and other nature lovers as they explore the site in the years to come.

“I met literally thousands of people, chased a million birds and butterflies…there aren’t enough hours to do all of the wonderful things to be had here.”


  • 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.

    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.

    Since 2001 TNC 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, TNC 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.

    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.

  • The Nature Conservancy’s preserves are set aside to protect natural plant and animal communities. 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. 

     The following activities are not allowed:

    • Bringing dogs onto the preserve unless otherwise noted. Please visit Places We Protect to confirm the policy at each preserve.
    • Dogs are not allowed on any of the Virginia Coast Reserve islands
    • 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

    To minimize your impact, we ask that you please also observe the following:

    • 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.

Paddling the Dragon

Dragon Run meanders for nearly 40 miles through remote portions of four eastern Virginia counties before widening to form the Piankatank River.

A woman sits in a blue kayak with her knees drawn up. Another paddler floats behind her on the still, smooth creek.
The yellow tip of a kayak floats under a low hanging branch covered with small orange flowers. The rippling water reflects the bare trees lining the far bank.
Strips of bright, fresh wood are exposed along the base of a cypress tree, showing where beavers have gnawed away the bark.
A man floats in a yellow kayak, looking up into the trees that surround the wide, calm creek.
A group of paddlers approach a curve in the creek. In the foreground, a yellow dragon shaped blaze on a tree marks the way.

Find More Places We Protect

The Nature Conservancy owns nearly 1,500 preserves covering more than 2.5 million acres across all 50 states. These lands protect wildlife and natural systems, serve as living laboratories for innovative science and connect people to the natural world.

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