The University of Virginia’s College at Wise (UVA Wise), The Nature Conservancy (TNC) and the Cumberland Forest Limited Partnership are delighted to share the 2023 award recipients of the Cumberland Forest Community Fund (CFCF). This competitive local grant program is designed to support nature-based economic and community development projects in seven Southwestern Virginia counties: Buchanan, Dickenson, Lee, Russell, Scott, Tazewell and Wise, as well as the City of Norton.
Friends of Southwest Virginia, Appalachian Voices, The Town of Cleveland, Clinch River Valley Initiative, The Town of Wise, The Town of Lebanon, The Town of Pennington Gap, Breaks Interstate Park, SWVA Sportsmen and The Town of St. Paul will receive a total of $140,000 from the 2023 CFCF award for projects ranging from an outdoor education area to a solar array installation to a trail network expansion for rock climbing access.
“We are extremely excited about this year’s recipients,” said Nick Proctor, community outreach coordinator with The Nature Conservancy. “The quality of awarded projects is a testament to the creative, thoughtful commitment that our communities have in solving unique challenges in Southwest Virginia. Each of the projects demonstrates the Fund’s triple bottom line: community, nature and economy. We look forward to working with each recipient over the coming months and seeing their success.”
Funding for the CFCF is provided to UVA Wise from the Cumberland Forest Limited Partnership and TNC to enhance local economic development, community capacity and environmental quality within the seven counties.
“Investing in our communities is a critical part of revitalizing the overall region,” said Shannon Blevins, UVA Wise vice chancellor for administration, government relations and strategic initiatives. “We are thrilled to work alongside The Nature Conservancy and the Cumberland Forest Limited Partnership in enabling the success of these exciting projects.”
In 2022, the first round of the CFCF similarly provided funding for 10 nature-based community projects throughout the region. The Southwest Virginia Sportsmen was among the award recipients for a wildlife habitat project in Buchanan County.
“Since we implemented the project, we have seen an increased presence of falcons, eagles, ducks and additional bird species, as well as other wildlife,” said SWVA Sportsmen Director John Taylor. “Elk and wildlife tours in the area have increased and in turn have helped increase tourism and cabin and hotel stays, as well as local shopping. The funding made this project possible and successful and will continue to provide lasting results for years to come.”
Quote: Nick Proctor
The second round of funding for the CFCF launched in January 2023, and projects were selected through a competitive process that solicited proposals from non-profits and communities. More information on this year’s CFCF award recipients can be found below and at www.oxbowcenter.com/communityfund.
Friends of Southwest Virginia secured $19,000 for the Tyler Flanary Pump Track
The Tyler Flanary pump track and skate park will provide an opportunity to connect enthusiasts to the world-class mountain biking resources of the region, as well as produce events in the town of Big Stone Gap. A pump track includes a circuit of rollers, banked turns and features designed for mountain bikes that will cater to locals and visitors. The track will provide an opportunity for mountain bikers of all ages to develop skills, get outside and create community. The pump track will be open daylight to dark and will feature competitions, public events and fun for a wide range of skill levels.
Appalachian Voices secured $15,000 for the Solar Workgroup
The Solar Workgroup of Southwest Virginia is working to build a locally rooted solar industry in service to the regional and collaborative efforts around economic diversification. The group came together in 2016 with a shared goal of promoting solar energy as a way to build on our region’s strong history as an energy producer. Their Solar Finance Fund is a regional resource to catalyze commercial and institutional-scale solar projects in coal-impacted counties in Central Appalachia. The allocated funds will support solar deployment and rooftop installation for one high-impact community anchor institution in the region.
The Town of Cleveland secured $5,000 for the Riverbend Campground’s Nurturing Nature project
Through local partnerships, The Nurturing Nature: A Beautification Project seeks to promote sustainable development and conservation of the environment. The Riverbend Campground tree-planting initiative aims to enhance the aesthetic appeal of the campground and public park access. The project will consist of planting a variety of native trees and shrubs to create a colorful and vibrant landscape that will provide ample shade and economic benefit to the community and will enhance community engagement and participation.
Clinch River Valley Initiative (CRVI) secured $11,500 for marketing initiatives
CRVI’s marketing initiative will support the promotion of outdoor recreation assets along the Clinch River and help expand community capacity building around tourism. Engaging citizens as good stewards of their lands and waters will enhance community pride while at the same time help to conserve our natural resources. CRVI’s efforts continue to strengthen regional collaboration and communication within the Clinch River Valley while also promoting the assets and outdoor recreational opportunities to individuals outside of the region.
The Town of Wise secured $15,000 for the Bear Creek Reservoir
The Bear Creek Reservoir, located in the Town of Wise, is a popular public area for outdoor recreation. The Reservoir includes picnic shelters, a boat launch and walking and biking trails for the community to enjoy. The Town of Wise is currently working to expand the trails at Bear Creek and continue promoting an active lifestyle through outdoor recreation opportunities. The Cumberland Forest Community Fund will support the repairs and updates to the existing restroom facilities.
The Town of Lebanon secured $15,000 for the Lebanon Park’s Playground Restoration
The Town of Lebanon received funding to upgrade the surface of one of the frequently visited playgrounds located within the town. This project will significantly contribute to the town’s efforts to provide more attractions and public gathering spaces to the community as well as visitors. Providing upgrades to the local parks will provide more outdoor recreation opportunities and further expand the economic impact of the town’s recent Downtown Revitalization project.
The Town of Pennington Gap secured $12,000 for the Outdoor Classroom Expansion
The outdoor classroom in Pennington Gap is located on the Pennington Gap Greenway along the Powell River near Pennington Middle School and is an excellent resource for outdoor education. The outdoor classroom currently consists of a concrete tiered seating area with a flat concrete space for teaching and was constructed with funds from the first round of the Cumberland Forest Community Fund and the Town of Pennington Gap. With the additional funding, the classroom will be expanded to include educational signage, accessibility adjustments, native plants and pollinator gardens, educational stations for weather and wildlife, and compost bins.
Breaks Interstate Park secured $30,000 for their Climbing Expansion project
Since 2015, the Breaks Interstate Park has developed more than 300 high-quality climbing routes for rock climbers of different skill levels. The Breaks Interstate Park was an award recipient of the first round of the Cumberland Forest Community Fund, and additional funding will support the improvement of existing trails and construct new trails to foster additional climbing access. Through their partnership with the Central Appalachian Climber’s Coalition, new routes will be established to provide a greater selection for rock climbing in the park. In addition to the climbing expansion, the Breaks Interstate Park will create a Climbing Master Plan, which will guide future development of the park's rock-climbing resources.
SWVA Sportsmen secured $15,000 for the Wildlife Habitat Protection Project
SWVA Sportsmen is working to create additional wildlife viewing opportunities in Southwest Virginia to increase tourism and attract visitors to the area. Over the past several years, this project has created its own industry in the region, and the number of wildlife tours is steadily increasing. SWVA Sportsmen received funding from the first round of the Cumberland Forest Community Fund, and additional funding will allow them to expand their habitat restoration efforts and provide additional wildlife food plots for elk in Buchanan County.
The Town of St. Paul secured $2,500 for Wetlands Estonoa Bridge and Walking Trail
The Wetlands Estonoa Learning Center consists of indoor and outdoor learning venues and a half-mile walking loop trail around the certified wetlands. The Center facilitates a zero-cost environmental educational program for students of all ages to engage in experiential learning. The Cumberland Forest Community Fund supported the first phase of the span bridge that overlooks the wetlands and connects the half-mile trail. The allocated funds will allow the project to complete the construction and provide greater access to the wetlands.
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 more than 70 countries and territories, we use 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 Twitter.