Street scene in St. Paul, VA. A red tractor drives past stone clad storefront. A police car is parked on the street. A church and other buildings are visible with a tall mountain in the background.
Cumberland Project Lebanon, VA © Travis Dove

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The Cumberland Forest Community Fund Announces First Group of Award Recipients

The Nature Conservancy and UVA Wise are pleased to announce the first group of grant recipients of the Cumberland Forest Community Fund. The Cumberland Forest Community Fund is a new local grant program with funding provided by the Cumberland Forest Limited Partnership that supports nature-based economic and community development in seven counties in Southwest Virginia (Wise, Russell, Tazewell, Dickenson, Buchanan, Lee, Scott and City of Norton).

“We are pleased to be announcing this first set of funded projects, which we believe will connect people to nature while contributing to economic diversification and community development in Virginia’s coalfields region,” says Brad Kreps, Clinch Valley Program Director for The Nature Conservancy. “We couldn’t be happier with UVA Wise as our partner and program manager for the Cumberland Forest Community Fund and are excited to see the College support these projects going forward.”

The Cumberland Forest Community Fund aims to enhance local economic development, community capacity and environmental quality within the program area. Successful grant awardees are implementing exciting projects that contribute toward this “triple bottom line” of desired outcomes.

“The first round of the Cumberland Forest Community Fund proposals included an impressive portfolio of diverse projects and the selection was very competitive. We look forward to supporting the implementation of these impactful projects,” says Shannon Blevins, vice chancellor for administration, government relations and strategic initiatives at UVA Wise.

Projects were selected through a competitive process that solicited proposals from businesses, non-profits and communities.

The list of funded projects is as follows:

  • Appalshop secured $9,850 for their Pound River Access project. Building on recent efforts to increase access to the Pound River, this project will establish a gravel parking area, markings and parking blocks for parking at the Old Mill Village Rd. access point; stairs, railing and a small viewing platform to improve pedestrian access; wayfinding signage in downtown to help users find the site; and an informational kiosk to help educate users about the ecological and historical value of the river.
  • The Breaks Interstate Park secured $15,000 for their Climbing Development project. In 2015, the Breaks Interstate Park opened rock climbing due to overwhelming demand expressed during the public comment section of their site master plan. Since that time, the Breaks has partnered with multiple entities to develop over 250 new routes, thousands of feet of access trails and a printed climbing guide. This project will expand upon these efforts by constructing new access trails, additional routes and camping options for climbers.
  • The Central Appalachia Climbers Coalition secured $6,850 for their Ben’s Branch Access project. This project will install a new parking area, build and improve the access trail, and install a new trailhead kiosk for Ben’s Branch, the new climbing area owned by the Town of Appalachia. The area is an impressive sandstone cliff that provides recreational opportunities for beginner to advanced climbers in a natural, scenic setting.
  • The Friends of SWVA secured a capacity building grant in the amount of $11,700 for their Clinch River Valley Initiative (CRVI). As the Initiative (CRVI) enters its second decade of service, the organization looks forward to incorporating as a non-profit and empowering a visionary leader to help steer CRVI toward continued economic and recreational growth while protecting and preserving the Clinch’s globally rare species for future generations.
  • OH Rentals LLC secured $5,600 for their OH Stay and Ride project. Based in Coeburn, OH Stay and Ride will provide lodging, bike and kayak rentals, repair services and shuttles so that visitors can spend time enjoying the over 100 miles of mountain trails in Wise County. Overnight accommodations include two-bedroom apartments, a gathering space and outdoor patio.
  • The SWVA Sportsmen secured a grant for $13,000 for their Wildlife Habitat project. SWVA Sportsmen will expand wildlife viewing opportunities in Buchanan County, increasing tourism and attracting visitors to the region. Since the completion of previous public wildlife viewing shelters and adjacent food plots, there has been a marked increase in wildlife tourism, adventure tourism, bird watching, wildlife watching, hiking and shed hunting in Buchanan County, particularly close to the new cabins and RV spots at Southern Gap.
  • The Town of Appalachia secured $10,000 for their Washington Rock Recreation Area project. This project aims to develop the Washington Rock Recreation Area in the Town of Appalachia into an outdoor recreation, tourism and community-use facility by capitalizing on the site’s inherent natural assets, historical significance and land reuse opportunities. Once developed, the area will provide picnic facilities and river access for fishing, kayaking and tubing.
  • The Town of Haysi secured $13,500 for their Haysi Riverfront Trail project. The Haysi Riverfront Trail project will construct a boardwalk and trail for pedestrian and electric bike traffic overlooking the Russell Fork River. Nestled behind a string of oft-frequented businesses in Haysi’s downtown, the Riverfront Trail will promote economic growth and tie together the various ATV, hiking, equestrian, biking and pedestrian trails in eastern Dickenson County and the nearby Breaks Interstate Park.
  • The Town of St. Paul secured $4,500 for their Wetlands Estonoa project. The Wetlands Estonoa Learning Center facilitates zero-cost environmental learning for kids of all ages. The facility consists of indoor and outdoor venues and a half-mile walking trail that loops around the federally certified wetlands. Funding will go toward the creation of a new span bridge overlooking the wetlands.
  • The Virginia Cooperative Extension of Lee County secured $10,000 for their Outdoor Classroom for Pennington Gap Greenway project. The Pennington Gap Greenway is a walking trail that runs beside the Powell River and is located adjacent to the Lee County Extension Office and Pennington Middle School. The trail is frequented by tourists and citizens of the community alike. This project aims to establish an outdoor classroom, hands-on education station and signage for educating both K–12 students and the general public.

For more information on the Cumberland Forest Community Fund and each of the awarded projects, visit www.oxbowcenter.com/communityfund.

About the Cumberland Forest Limited Partnership

The Cumberland Forest Limited Partnership, managed by The Nature Conservancy, owns more than 250,000 acres in the coalfields of Virginia, Kentucky, and Tennessee. Cumberland Forest utilizes an impact investment approach to manage these lands for sustainable forestry, climate resiliency, renewable energy, recreational uses and economic opportunities for people and communities. 

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. Working in 72 countries and territories: 38 by direct conservation impact and 34 through partners, we use a collaborative approach that engages local communities, governments, the private sector, and other partners. To learn more, visit www.nature.org or follow @nature_press on Twitter.