A collage of images featuring projects that enhance the cultural and environmental landscape of Southwest Virginia completed through the Cumberland Forest Community Fund.
Community Fund Projects Various projects completed through the Cumberland Forest Community Fund that develop and conserve the economic, cultural and environmental landscape of Southwest Virginia. © Nick Proctor/TNC, Breaks Interstate Park


Cumberland Forest Community Fund Opens 2024 Grant Applications for Local, Nature-Based Projects in Southwest Virginia

Now in its third year, the $100,000 Community Fund will help support projects that enhance nature, the economy and community in Appalachia.

Media Contacts

Through the Cumberland Forest Community Fund, The University of Virginia’s College at Wise (UVA Wise), The Nature Conservancy (TNC), the Anne and Gene Worrell Foundation, and the Cumberland Forest Limited Partnership are collaborating to provide another round of grants to support local communities. The Community Fund provides an exciting opportunity for organized community groups, non-profits, and local governments to receive financial support for projects that support a “triple bottom line”:  tangible contributions to local economic diversification, increased community capacity, and enhanced environmental quality. 

This competitive local grant program began in 2022 and is open to projects in seven counties in Southwest Virginia: Buchanan, Dickenson, Lee, Russell, Scott, Tazewell, Wise and the City of Norton. UVA Wise serves as the program administrator, while funding and other support for the program and the latest round of grants is provided by the Cumberland Forest Limited Partnership, The Nature Conservancy, and the Anne and Gene Worrell Foundation. 

“Projects funded in the first two rounds of the Cumberland Forest Community Fund have been diverse and inspiring. They serve as great examples of how the region leverages the unique assets available to us in Southwest Virginia and we are excited to see what this next round of funding has in store,” says Shannon Blevins, Vice Chancellor for Government Relations and Strategic Initiatives at UVA Wise.

Examples of eligible projects may include, but are not limited to: downtown revitalization initiatives; recreational trails and/or greenways; development and/or promotion of natural or cultural assets in local communities; renewable energy projects; outdoor recreation, sustainable forestry or agricultural initiatives; and land or water restoration projects.

“We’re excited to see how Southwest Virginians use their creativity and entrepreneurial skills to leverage the region’s glorious natural assets so that Appalachia and its people can thrive,” said Holly Hatcher, President and CEO of the Anne and Gene Worrell Foundation, a key supporter of the Cumberland Forest Community Fund.

The Nature Conservancy launched its 253,000-acre Cumberland Forest Project across Virginia, Kentucky, and Tennessee in 2019 to conserve some of the most critical wildlife corridors in the eastern states and create an impact investment fund—or capital from private investments—through the Cumberland Forest Limited Partnership that will help TNC restore the forests and pursue other conservation projects that have the potential to earn a profit and allow reinvestment in the land.

As one way to create local community benefits from the impact investment model, the Community Fund was established in 2022 and has already provided $240,000 in grants for twenty nature-based community projects throughout Southwest Virginia. Awarded projects have included new river access points, outdoor classrooms, trail development and eco-tourism initiatives. One of the award recipients, the Town of Appalachia, leveraged grant funds to enhance recreational access to the Powell River.

“The award from the Cumberland Forest Community Fund has allowed the town to make tremendous progress on the Powell River access and overlook deck projects,” says past awardee Brian Falin, Parks and Recreation Director for the Town of Appalachia. “While this facility serves as an additional recreational opportunity for the town and its residents, there are benefits to the entire region, as well. With tourism and outdoor recreation continuing to be a vital part of the regional economy, this project provides another valuable asset that will draw visitors to the area which will result in increased tourism related revenue, additional support for small businesses, and opportunities for continued growth.”

Applications for the third round of grants will be accepted Monday, March 18, 2024, through Friday, April 26, 2024. More information on the Cumberland Forest Community Fund, including the program guidelines and application, can be found at www.oxbowcenter.com/communityfund.

University of Virginia College at Wise (UVA Wise) is a four-year liberal arts college in the heart of Central Appalachia offering a new Master of Education degree program and 33 majors including Virginia's only bachelor's degree in software engineering, 39 minors, 5 pre-professional programs, 24 teaching licensures. An Innovation & Economic Prosperity (IEP) designated institution and Apple Distinguished School, UVA Wise has been praised as a “Best Bang for the Buck” college by Washington Monthly and is honored for helping students achieve forward social mobility by U.S. News & World Report, meaning UVA Wise empowers students by providing the economic support they need to enroll at and graduate from college. UVA Wise has become the neutral convener and unbiased facilitator for the Southwest Virginia region and its communities, driving economic and community development. We bring together great minds from across our communities to ensure all voices are heard, and we stand for a community-informed, asset-based system of developing and completing regional goals to advance the region and Commonwealth.

The Anne & Gene Worrell Foundation is dedicated to supporting Anne & Gene Worrell's compassion for all living things and their loyal service to Virginia and its people. The foundation focuses its grantmaking primarily in Southwest Virginia and the Charlottesville and Surry, Virginia areas. For more information, visit www.agworrellfoundation.org.

The Nature Conservancy is a global conservation organization dedicated to conserving the lands and waters on which all life depends. Guided by science, we create innovative, on-the-ground solutions to our world’s toughest challenges so that nature and people can thrive together. We are tackling climate change, conserving lands, waters and oceans at an unprecedented scale, providing food and water sustainably and helping make cities more sustainable. The Nature Conservancy is working to make a lasting difference around the world in 77 countries and territories (41 by direct conservation impact and 36 through partners) through a collaborative approach that engages local communities, governments, the private sector, and other partners. To learn more, visit nature.org or follow @nature_press on X.