Dragon Flats Preserve

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.

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.

View preserve guidelines.  Please note: dogs are not allowed at any Conservancy preserve.

What the Conservancy Has Done/Is Doing

In 2001, the Conservancy established its Chesapeake Rivers Program to work closely with partners such as Virginia’s Department of Forestry and Friends of Dragon Run. Since the landscape program launched, the Conservancy has helped conserve nearly 9,000 acres in the forest block surrounding Dragon Run.

In 2008, the Conservancy 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.

Land conservation along Dragon Run preserves traditional land uses that have endured for at least four centuries. It’s also critical to protecting and restoring the Chesapeake Bay downstream and its embattled species such as our native oyster. 

in 2014, The Nature Conservancy gave a $500,000 grant to the State of Virginia to support the construction of a large-scale oyster sanctuary downstream in the Piankatank River.

Related Stories

Dragon Run Lures Paddlers Into Pristine Paradise
Bay Journal (Feb. 26, 2016)

The dark, tannic water of Dragon Run slides downstream in an ever-tighter channel, taking us deeper into the tupelo and bald cypress swamp on a cloudy April morning. The dark water adds to my foreboding.  



Ride the Dragon

Take a virtual kayaking trip down Dragon Run and experience one of the state’s finest blackwater streams.

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

Download a map of the Dragon Run protected lands. (pdf)


Bald cypress trees and aquatic plants such as arrow arum, spatterdock and pickerelweed. The preserve hosts at least one state-rare plant, pineland tick-trefoil.


Bald eagle, prothonotary warbler, blackwater bluet (a state-rare damselfly).


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