Places We Protect

Piney Grove Preserve


An open pine savanna of tall, widely spaced pine trees with a low understory of thick ferns.
Piney Grove Pine savanna at Virginia's Piney Grove Preserve. © Robert B. Clontz / TNC

Restoring pine savannas and protecting Virginia's rarest bird, the red-cockaded woodpecker.



Piney Grove Preserve harbors one of Virginia's last breeding populations of red-cockaded woodpeckers and the northernmost population in the U.S. Listed as endangered in 1970, this charismatic black-and-white woopecker gets its name from a barely visible speck of red on each side of the male's cap.

Nesting exclusively in live pine trees, the bird requires mature trees with soft heartwood for excavating nest cavities. Red-cockaded woodpeckers once numbered in the hundreds of thousands throughout the Southeast and up into New Jersey, but the loss of old-growth pine habitat led to a dramatic decline.

By investing in our forest restoration efforts, TNC supporters have helped us to enhance habitat and expand the preserve's breeding groups of red-cockaded woodpeckers.



Please note: dogs are not allowed at this preserve.


Open during daylight hours February through October. To ensure visitor safety, the Constance Darden Nature Trail is closed November through January due to hunting in the vicinity.

Wheelchair Accessible

Public access to Piney Grove is available via the 0.3-mile Constance Darden Nature Trail. The trail is accessible; the observation deck at the end of the trail is not.


3,200 acres

Explore our work in Virginia


  • Public access to Piney Grove is available via the Constance Darden Nature Trail, which offers an easy 0.3-mile walk.  The trail is open daily, February through October. To ensure visitor safety, the trail is closed November through January due to hunting in the vicinity.

    Download our interpretive brochure and map (pdf) to bring along on your next visit.  The trail is accessible; the observation deck at the end of the trail is not.

    The gateway to Piney Grove Preserve is named in honor of the late Constance Darden, a devoted conservationist and philanthropist, and made possible by a generous gift from the Darden family.

  • Plants

    Old-growth pine savanna and two rare plant species: seymeria and Carolina peatmoss.


    In addition to the red-cockaded woodpecker, Piney Grove is home to many other birds and the state-rare fox squirrel.

  • 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.

A person standing on the ground holds the view finder of a peeper cam, allowing them to view the interior of a nest cavity high above in a pine tree.
A "peeper cam" allows TNC staff to view two female red-cockaded woodpecker chicks in their nest cavity high above the forest floor.

Restoring a Pine Savanna

At Piney Grove and all along the Virginia Pinelands, we work to conserve southeastern Virginia’s historic loblolly and longleaf pine forests and the variety of life they support.

Protecting and restoring Piney Grove's special resources require active management. To maintain and expand the pine-savanna habitat upon which the red-cockaded woodpecker and myriad other species depend, we conduct frequent prescribed burns. Our science staff works closely with state and federal agencies and highly trained volunteers to implement safe, effective fire management. 

TNC acquired the first tract for the preserve in 1998 from the Hancock Timber Resource Group, and several additional purchases brought Piney Grove to its current size.

Beginning in 2001, red-cockaded woodpeckers captured from stable populations in the Carolinas were released at Piney Grove to boost the number of breeding colonies.

Biologists from the Center for Conservation Biology have documented modern-day highs at Piney Grove for the numbers of breeding pairs and fledglings. Approximately 70 red-cockaded woodpeckers now call Piney Grove home.

In 2019, Piney Grove's woodpeckers reached another milestone. In only sixteen years, the population had grown large enough—and stable enough—to help support a new colony at Great Dismal Swamp National Wildlife Refuge

A single pair of hatch-year birds, including a male and female, were moved from Piney Grove to Great Dismal during the falls of 2017, 2018 and 2019. In September 2020, TNC and partners translocated two pairs of woodpeckers, bringing the total transfer to ten individuals to date.

Intensive habitat management by Virginia's Department of Wildlife Resources at neighboring Big Woods Wildlife Management Area has also been paying dividends for RCW recovery.

In 2017, DWR and TNC biologists discovered a banded male RCW with an active cavity on Big Woods WMA; the bird had originated from the Piney Grove population. This was the first documented occurrence of an individual or cavity on the WMA, demonstrating that DWR’s restoration efforts were making a difference and Piney Grove’s woodpeckers were finding the expanded habitat they need—even ahead of the timeline DWR biologists expected. By January 2023, it’s estimated that between five and seven RCWs are using the Big Woods habitat.

Taken together, these milestones in the recovery of this species in Virginia is a sign that investment in aggressive management during the early 2000s is paying off.

RCW Success

By investing in our forest restoration efforts, TNC supporters have helped us to enhance habitat and expand the preserve's breeding groups of red-cockaded woodpeckers.

Learn More About Longleaf
Stacked ladders snake up the side of a longleaf pine tree. A man is barely visible at the top, obscured by pine needles; as he removed a woodpecker chick for banding.
A small yellow envelope lays on a purple bath towel. It is surrounded by its contents, small silver bands used for identifying birds.
A man holds a woodpecker chick in one hand and uses his other to check the multicolored plastic bands that have been applied to the bird's leg for identification.
A man cradles a small, featherless red-cockaded woodpecker chick in his cupped hands.
An adult red-cockaded woodpecker perches on the side of a pine tree. Its brown wing is flecked with white feathers.

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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