VOF’s first project in Petersburg helps effort to build Appomattox River Trail

VOF’s first project in Petersburg helps effort to build Appomattox River Trail
A stretch of the Appomattox River Trail that runs through the property will be permanently accessible to the public.

The Virginia Outdoors Foundation recently completed its first conservation project in the City of Petersburg—an open-space easement on 4.8 acres owned by Friends of the Lower Appomattox River (FOLAR).

FOLAR’s acquisition is a critical component in the development of the Appomattox River Trail. When completed, the trail will be over 25 miles in length, connecting a rich diversity of historical, cultural, and physiographic areas, stretching from Lake Chesdin in the Piedmont to the James River in the Coastal Plain, where it will connect to historic City Point National Park in the City of Hopewell.

One of several new access points on the Appomattox River created by the FOLAR project.

The acquisition and easement were supported by a $159,000 grant from VOF’s Preservation Trust Fund. The easement requires that the property be permanently accessible to the public for outdoor recreation and education.

“We are thrilled to be a partner in this visionary project, which will provide thousands of citizens with new opportunities to connect to the Appomattox River and nature,” said VOF Executive Director Brett Glymph. “It represents the kind of community-driven conservation that VOF is proud to support.”

The dotted line along the south bank of the river between Battersea and McKenzie Street Park will become a solid line thanks to this project. Across the river is Virginia State University.

“FOLAR is dedicated to conserving and protecting the Appomattox River for all to enjoy,” said Wendy Austin, FOLAR’s Executive Director, “We were very glad to make this happen.”

With its new protected status, the property contributes to several state and local conservation programs. It contains approximately 1,742 feet of shoreline on the Appomattox River, a state-designated scenic river. The Appomattox River Trail is a Regional Featured Project in the 2018 Virginia Outdoors Plan prepared by the Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation. Located within the North Battersea/Pride’s Field National Historic District, the property is also identified as a priority site in the Commonwealth’s ConserveVirginia project under the Cultural and Historic Preservation and Scenic Preservation categories.

FOLAR will use the VOF grant and other funding to make improvements to the property and trail system before conveying the land to the City of Petersburg.

Remnants of arches believed to be connected to an old mill are among the few structures left on the property.

Once completed, the Appomattox River Trail will leverage the growth of the outdoor recreation industry and its beneficial impact on health and wellness in the metro-Richmond region, creating connections between hundreds of miles of regional trail, including the Virginia Capital Trail, James River Park system, the East Coast Greenway, and the proposed Ashland-to-Petersburg trail.

Learn more about the Appomattox River Trail project at https://folar-va.org/projects/appomattox-river-trail-and-signage-master-plan/.

Lee Woodruff Blueway/Dogwood Trail Improvement, Prince Edward County

Lee Woodruff Blueway/Dogwood Trail Improvement, Prince Edward County
VOF-funded tree plantings along a segment of the Dogwood Trail in the Town of Farmville will help increase the urban canopy and prevent erosion along Buffalo Creek, a tributary of the Appomattox River.

Jay Wilkerson, horticulturalist for the town of Farmville, manages the trees, shrubs, flower beds and planters all over town. It’s a big undertaking, especially in Farmville, which has qualified as a Tree City USA, for the past 17 years. Tree Cities help increase public awareness about urban trees as green infrastructure and must meet standards established by the Arbor Day Foundation. These include maintaining a tree board that is legally responsible for all trees on city- or town-owned property, passing a public tree-care ordinance, observing a yearly Arbor Day separate from the nationally observed one, and budgeting for a minimum $2.00 per capita expenditure on urban forestry.

Wilkerson saw an opportunity to stretch Farmville’s tree budget in 2020, when he noticed erosion on the banks of Buffalo Creek, a tributary of the Appomattox River that runs through town, and applied to the Virginia Outdoors Foundation’s Appomattox River Fund. Set up in 2019, the limited fund worked to mitigate the loss of riparian trees on a VOF easement in Amelia County. Grant applicants had to demonstrate that their project would enhance water quality in the Appomattox River watershed.

The trees line a new trail segment and bridge that connect downtown Farmville along Buffalo Creek to the local hospital, then to the Sarah Terry Walking Trail, which winds around Wilck’s Lake and links several parks.

“That area along Buffalo Creek was already prone to flooding, but at the time they were building a pedestrian bridge and some new hard-surface trails there, which added to the problem,” he explains. To prevent erosion and improve water quality, Wilkerson used the grant to buy and plant a variety of river birch, a Virginia native, between the new trail and the creek. River birches do well in flood plains, he says. “Because the area floods, we needed to make sure we chose trees that would survive in those conditions.”

Erosion control is just one of the benefits of trees in the urban landscape, he adds. “Green infrastructure in the form of trees and shrubs addresses a wide range of issues, including heat islands, sound pollution and water run-off. You also get a lot of habitat for wildlife.”

The trees are doing well, he adds. “They started out small, in the three- to four-foot range. Now they’re about 12-15 feet tall.” Eventually the trees will reach 30-40 feet.

Trees are an investment, he adds, and it takes time for that investment to mature. “The initial contribution from Virginia Outdoors Foundation was the start of what will be a huge asset. Farmville will continue to nurture that investment.”

For more information on the Tree City USA designation and other urban forestry recognition programs in Virginia, visit the Virginia Department of Forestry website.


New River Wildlife and Conservation Club, Grayson County

New River Wildlife and Conservation Club, Grayson County
From fly fishing lessons to river cleanups, the New River Wildlife and Conservation Club provides the public with opportunities to enjoy and take care of the New River on their VOF-protected property throughout the year.

August is Clean River Month in Grayson County, but almost every month of the year holds opportunities to get out and enjoy the river and the wildlife it supports, all thanks to the New River Wildlife and Conservation Club (NRWCC). Its 32-acre property is open to the public for river cleanups in August and fly-fishing clinics, hunter education courses, field-to-table workshops, mountain crafts workshops, nature walks, kayaking lessons, and floats throughout the year.

The club protected the property with an open-space easement donated to the Virginia Outdoors Foundation in 2006. The parcel is special, NRWCC’s president Keith Andrews says, because of the diversity of habitats it encompasses. “You have the river frontage, and that’s one ecosystem,” he explains. “Then, a little inland, there’s a vernal pond. And then there’s the meadow, which just in the past year we’ve made a conscious effort to let grow more naturally so that it is more open to butterflies and other pollinators.” From there an upland forest takes over, he adds, “So people can see it all.”

The NRWCC advocated for the August designation and saw it adopted by the county board of supervisors in 2021. The designation means that the county pledges to work with organizations like the NRWCC to increase awareness of what the river has to offer and to promote and support cleanup efforts every August. “It’s our biggest conservation project,” says Andrews. “In August of 2021, we teamed with groups of corporate volunteers to remove 231 tires from the river. This year with volunteers we were able to remove over 200 tires again.”

New River Wildlife and Conservation Club, Grayson County
Corporate groups and other volunteers have helped NRWCC remove over 400 tires from the New River since 2021.

The cleanups are just one part of NRWCC’s work. They also host citizen science training seminars like the Water Watchers Certification Clinic in partnership with New River Conservancy, and the Fish of the New Clinic in partnership with the Virginia Department of Wildlife Resources. Their objective, says Andrews, is “to start developing the next generation of stewards for the New.” 

Andrews tells the story of one of those new stewards, a 9-year-old who was recognized for her participation in August clean-up activities with a Clean River Stewardship Award at the club’s winter gathering. The awards were covered in the local paper. “This young lady, when she saw her picture in the paper, she was so proud of it that she took it to show-and-tell for her class the day after it came out,” Andrews says. “That’s how you start building stewardship.”

Public events for Fall 2023 include a full program of hunter education classes, a club-sponsored kayak trip, an open house and nature walk and, in time for the holiday season, a folk toymaking workshop.

For more details about these and other events on the property, NRWCC has posted Fall 2023 Big Events calendar on their Facebook page.

11 projects awarded grants from Coastal Resilience and Tree Fund

11 projects awarded grants from Coastal Resilience and Tree Fund
Save Neck Dunes Natural Area Preserve was one of the projects to receive a grant from CRTF this summer. © DCR-DNH, Gary P. Fleming

Wetlands Watch and the Virginia Outdoors Foundation recently announced that $68,073 has been awarded to 11 projects from the second round of the Coastal Resilience and Tree Fund (CRTF).

CRTF grants support implementation of resilient practices and enhance the ability of organizations and government agencies to plan for future implementation of resiliency projects within the coastal zone. Project that are eligible for funding include those that:

  • Achieve increased resilience to flooding, sea level rise, and extreme weather events in Virginia’s coastal communities.
  • Increase tree canopy in the Coastal Zone and raise awareness of the value of trees as a best management practice and component of resiliency.
  • Raise public awareness about the role of nature-based solutions in improving community resilience.
  • Enhance the ability of organizations and government agencies to plan and implement resiliency projects within the Coastal Zone.

VOF provides funding for CRTF and Wetlands Watch administers the grants. Learn more at https://wetlandswatch.org/coastal-resilience-trees-fund.

Project titles, descriptions, and award amounts are detailed below.


Aberdeen Gardens Museum Drainage / Water Project – $2,500

Design of a demonstration site to showcase the benefits of a rain garden. To improve the drainage and water removal from Historical Museum property. Focuses on establishing and maintaining planting and maintaining proper drainage. This will help stabilize grounds, mitigate erosion, and provide natural buffers against storms and flooding.


Savage Neck Dunes Erosion Education and Reduction – $7,943

Savage Neck Dunes Natural Area Preserve is a very popular publicly open area owned by VDCR. Unfortunately, due to both anthropogenic and natural causes, the shoreline is experiencing erosion. This project will install low-impact, cost-effective fencing, ropes, plantings, and signage in the back dunes and shoreline areas to reduce erosion and protect rare habitat and species. Visitors will learn from the interpretive material and incorporate into their actions and decisions in coastal areas.


Greening Greater Fulton – $10,000

The Alliance for the Chesapeake Bay (the Alliance) and partners will construct an accessible, vibrant green street in the Fulton Hill Business District in Richmond, VA. The project will improve water quality in this highly impervious urban area by implementing green stormwater infrastructure practices to treat and capture stormwater runoff and reduce urban heat island impacts while improving Fulton?s climate resiliency.

Weyanoke Shoreline Restoration – $10,000

Completion of restoration of a residential tidal shoreline on Lambert’s Creek along the Elizabeth River Trail, adjacent to the Weyanoke Bird & Wildlife Sanctuary. The homeowners have worked for several years to eradicate phragmites. The goal is to continue to remove the invasives and replant with native wetland species to suppress their return, to provide shoreline stabilization, to improve site resiliency, and to provide for beautification along the ERT.

Courthouse Community UMC Green Infrastructure – $10,000

Courthouse Community United Methodist Church is located in the middle of Virginia Beach adjacent to the rapidly developing Courthouse area. This 6.5 acre property has extensive impervious parking and rooftop and only a few trees in parking lot islands. The property has three retaining ponds to handle storm-water, but they frequently overflow into the parking area and storm-water sometimes reaches the building. The retention ponds were designed to overflow into a City maintained drainage ditch, but the ditch does not have the capacity to drain the church property and all the new development in the area. To make matters worse, nine acres of adjacent forested property on the other side of the drainage ditch is going to have the trees cut down to be developed into additional housing. This project will restore native trees, shrubs, and perennial garden plants on the church property that is currently turf grass, provide additional ground cover plants on eroding parking lot islands, and include two rain barrels to trap some storm-water for use to water plants between rain storms. Adding large native trees and layers of native vegetation will help absorb some of the excess stormwater, prevent erosion, filter run-off, and restore habitat around the church. 


Invasive Plant Removal on Chapel Island, Richmond, VA – $5,000

Since 2014 the James River Association (JRA) has worked with James River Park System (JRPS) Invasive Task Force to coordinate invasive plant removal and habitat restoration at Chapel Island in Richmond. It is now critical to make progress on removing invasive species threatening this local park and riparian corridor through the heart of Richmond. JRA will use a qualified contractor to treat 2 acres of invasives encroaching on existing native species, including native trees planted in 2021.

Eastern Shore Native Plant Public Pollinator Area – $5,000

Two acres of native plant pollinator area will improve soil quality, reduce runoff, and improve infiltration. The pollinators supported will improve overall ecosystem health and resiliency, while also supporting nearby agriculture operations success. Located on public property, clear and engaging interpretive content will inspire the use of native plant species in residential and business landscaping, spreading the impact of the project well beyond the planted two-acre pollinator area.

Stewardship in the ERT Managed Meadow – $5,000

The ERT Foundation will continue to invest in its Managed Meadow to purchase supplies and materials to remove invasive species that have become overgrown in the area. Supplementing the surrounding area with additional seeding of native plants and obtain a seasonal monitoring contract, as well as the addition of two interpretive signs that discuss the habitat conservation, storm water resilience and bioretention in the meadow, illustrating the trail as a storyteller to sea level rise.

Cape Charles Native Habitat Restoration – $5,000

Cape Charles NAP will be restored by removing invasive plants & replacing them with natives. Native plants will reduce runoff, improve infiltration and soil quality, and support pollinators which improve ecosystem health & resiliency. Located on public property, clear & engaging interpretive content will inspire the use of native plant species in residential & business landscaping & encourage erosion-protective trail use, spreading the impact of the project well beyond the project area.

Lynnhaven River NOW Stewardship Project – $5,000

Lynnhaven River NOW has been installing resiliency projects at residential, school, business, faith organization, and public properties throughout Virginia Beach for many years. We average 42 green infrastructure projects a year that require thousands of native trees, shrubs, and perennial plants. The projects include rain gardens, buffers, conservation landscapes, living shorelines, and tree plantings that help reduce erosion, storm-water runoff, and flooding, and also improve habitat in Virginia Beach. Installing and maintaining these projects requires a reliable source of affordable native plants. We have established relationships with local schools that grow plants for us and other native plant installers who donate overstocks to us for use in our projects. We also have farm land that has been made available to us to raise and maintain these donated native plants. This grant will allow us to transport, maintain, transplant, and distribute these plants to be used in new resiliency projects and to maintain existing projects that need replacement plants. 


Enhancing Coastal Forestry in the Tidal Rappahannock Watershed – $2,630

Tree planting project on the banks of the tidal Rappahannock River will connect existing forest with recently planted former agricultural fields. Landowners have worked with conservation partners to plant over 15,000 trees in the last 5 years. This project is the linchpin that connects the plantings together.

Brodnax Town Park, Brunswick and Mecklenburg Counties

Brodnax Town Park, Brunswick and Mecklenburg Counties
New playground equipment at the Town of Brodnax Town Park is getting more kids (and adults!) outside and active. Photos courtesy of Your Face Photography,

In a small town like Brodnax, a nice park can be a big deal. So much so that more than half of the town’s 300 residents showed up at a recent kickoff event celebrating upgrades to the town park funded by a 2021 Virginia Outdoors Foundation Get Outdoors Fund grant.

The funding made the park more welcoming to parents and kids of all abilities, by increasing hardscaping that is easier for wheelchairs and strollers to navigate and adding a second picnic table that is ADA compliant. The town was also able to cover both tables with a pavilion to offer shade, install more playground equipment, and replace existing mulch with playground-certified mulch that better cushions falls and passes the “mommy test,” says the town’s mayor, Don Dugger, by not staining kids’ knees and clothes.

“The improvements were all about accessibility and comfort,” he explains. “The park was built in 2015, and we designed it to have more equipment, but at the time there wasn’t enough funding to do everything that we wanted to do.” The lack of shaded areas was also a problem, he adds. “The little kids could play in the sun for a while, but there was nowhere for them or their parents to go to escape it.”

The park is walking distance for most of the town’s residents.

The park is situated in the middle of town next to the post office and a day care center, within walking distance from most residents’ homes. It’s also a convenient rest stop for people hiking the Tobacco Heritage Trail, which runs alongside it. “We knew that the park had more to offer,” Dugger says, “if we could just muster up the ability to add the things that we needed for it to meet its potential. The Get Outdoors grant made that possible.”

Dugger says that the application process was easy, which was a big factor in the town’s ability to apply. “We’re so small it’s hard to compete with bigger places that have a lot of resources devoted to seeking funds. It’s super rewarding that projects like this can be funded through organizations like VOF.”

The park celebration day featured a bounce house, games, and face painting, making it a fun way to introduce Brodnax’s kids to the new park equipment.

He adds that the Get Outdoors grant opened a gateway to other grants that will help the town complete their vision for the park. “Those funds have been a kick-starter for the whole program,” he states. “We got a grant from VDOT and the Tobacco Commission to renovate the old train depot as a trailhead with bathrooms.” The COVID-19 pandemic got in the way of the renovations, however. “Costs went up, so we were only able to get engineering and plansdone. Now we are reapplying to the same grant, asking them look at the project again.”

In the meantime, the town is planning more ways to bring families out to the park. Businesses that donated supplies to the June kickoff event
are already offering to help with future events, Dugger states. “When we said we wanted to have a day for the kids, everyone came through. It’s important to the entire town.”

For more scenes from the celebration, watch the video below:

12 Ridges Vineyard, Nelson County

Protected by a VOF easement since 2011, 12 Ridges Vineyard  welcomes guests to come enjoy its acclaimed wines and spectacular views.
Protected by a VOF easement since 2011, 12 Ridges Vineyard welcomes guests to come enjoy its acclaimed wines and spectacular views.
There’s a spot along the Blue Ridge Parkway, around milepost 25, where the forested viewshed opens up to reveal gently sloping fields studded with grapevines. This is 12 Ridges Vineyard, at 3,300 feet the highest altitude vineyard in Virginia. As owner Craig Colberg will tell you, growing grapes this high is not for the faint of heart. The mountain climate makes for a shorter growing season, and periods of bitter cold in winter or too much rain in the summer can make or break a harvest. “All of the farming that we are doing at this altitude is experimental,” he states. “It’s a big challenge for us.”

Yet, the challenging conditions of these higher elevations—lower temperatures, higher ultraviolet radiation and light intensity, less oxygen and carbon dioxide in the air—also help create distinctive wines that Colberg wants to share with visitors to the property, whose original 361 acres he protected in 2011 with an open-space easement donated to the Virginia Outdoors Foundation. The easement protects the viewshed along the parkway by guaranteeing that the land will remain primarily open space in perpetuity. That’s not only important for the views, Colberg states. “Wine takes time. A vine is a couple of years old before you put it in the ground. And then you have another four years before you get even a modest crop.” Now in its fifth year, 12 Ridges had its first harvest in 2021, releasing its first vintage of Riesling in 2022 and its Pinot Gris, Chardonnay and Pinot Noir in 2023. A sparkling Blanc du Blanc, made in the traditional double-fermentation method, is a little longer wait; it will be ready to enjoy in 2025. And if the farming is experimental, the production borrows from tradition: 12 Ridges has revived a centuries-old method of creating Riesling grape pomace, a fizzy beverage with a low alcohol content made from the fermented juice from the skins, seeds, and stems left over from the winemaking process.


12 Ridges Vineyard, Nelson County
Visitors to the vineyard's tasting deck can enjoy unobstructed views of the Blue Ridge Mountains.

Visitors can enjoy the wines and the views on the vineyard’s 7,500-square-foot terrace, which is surrounded by the 12 mountain ridges that give the winery its name. Guests are welcome to wander through the grapevines or bring a picnic blanket and pick a spot to enjoy charcuteries, cheeses and dips from the vineyard kitchen. Live music is available some weekends, and pecial events have included a 2022 fall artisan crafts fair and wine and free apple pie on July 4th.

The vineyard’s inaugural outing of small-batch wines has been very well-received, and Colberg has responded by increasing the acreage planted in vines from 12 to 20. He has also retained the property’s prior function as a cut-your-own Christmas tree farm and has increased the portion of the property planted in Fraser firs. Like the wine, it will take some time to see the fruits of that labor. “Christmas Trees take about ten years before they’re ready to cut,” he says. “So it gives me more incentive to stick around.”

12 Ridges is open to the public from 12-5pm, Thursdays through Sundays. Dogs on a leash are welcome, and there is a swing set for the kids. Visit their Facebook  or Instagram page for the latest news and events and their website to sign up for their newsletter.


AT Viewshed from McAfee Knob, Botetourt County

AT Viewshed from McAfee Knob, Botetourt County
A grant from VOF's Forest Core Fund is helping ensure protection of the iconic view from McAfee Knob, one of the AT's most photographed views. Photo: Tim Lewis.

At an elevation of 3,197 feet, with a panoramic view of the Catawba Valley, McAfee Knob is one of the most photographed sites on the Appalachian Trail (A.T.). Yet it wasn’t even included in the original route planned out by trail mappers in in the early 1930s, according to documents recently discovered in the Roanoke Appalachian Trail Club’s archives. Instead, the trail was supposed to follow the crest of the Blue Ridge Mountains, passing about 15 miles east of the Knob.

Thankfully, members of the just-formed Roanoke Appalachian Trail Club (RATC) convinced master trail planner and chair of the Appalachian Trail Conference (now Conservancy) Myron Avery to reconsider the route, and today hiking to the Knob is considered an essential part of the AT experience, with more than 50,000 hikers a year tackling the moderately difficult ascent.

Today’s RATC is working closely with the Appalachian Trail Conservancy (ATC) to protect the site and its viewshed as part of a coalition of stakeholders that includes Visit VA’s Blue Ridge, Virginia Tech, the Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT), Roanoke County, the Conservation Fund (TCF), and the Virginia Outdoors Foundation, which has provided $416,200 in grants from VOF’s Forest Core Fund to protect two parcels in Botetourt County, Hogan Hollow and the Rickman property. The two parcels total over 350 acres, containing part of the A.T. footpath and also forming part of the viewshed from the summit.

AT Viewshed from McAfee Knob, Botetourt County
The Hogan Hollow parcel will help keep the forested viewshed from the Knob intact.

The grants helped cover the properties’ purchase price, surveying costs, legal and appraisal fees, title work, and environmental site assessments. It also helped ATC and TCF establish legal boundaries for the Hogan Hollow parcel, enabling the transfer of ownership to NPS. “There were conflicting boundary claims on one of the parcels, and all we had was a trail easement on the path,” says Andrew Downs, the senior director of the ATC’s southern region. “It was underprotected in our view.

“My favorite aspect of this whole process has been how all these different partners came together and started moving the needle towards a better-protected, more accessible, more responsibly used McAfee Knob,” he notes.

Work on a new, more accessible trailhead is underway. In the meantime, volunteers from the RATC continue their work for the trail, educating hikers about leave-no-trace principles and other important information about using the trail responsibly. These volunteers, known as the McAfee Knob Taskforce, also help to steward the trails by reporting problems. According to the Roanoke Outside Foundation website, 52 Volunteer Taskforce members logged 1,678 volunteer hours and spoke with over 19,000 visitors to the AT in 2019.

“The whole community has really rallied around this location, and it’s been wonderful to see,” Downs notes. “Everyone is stepping up with a message of preservation.”

VOF opens $1.875 million grant round for open-space projects

The Virginia Outdoors Foundation (VOF) is making $1.7 million available from its Preservation Trust Fund program and $175,000 from its Get Outdoors Fund for grants that protect open space for public use and other public benefits.

Preservation Trust Fund grants for the fall 2023 grant round will prioritize projects that result in significant public access, but funds may also be used for projects that protect exceptional conservation values such as water quality, historic and cultural resources, wildlife habitat, and high-quality farmland and forestland. A real estate interest must either be acquired by a local government or conveyed to VOF to be eligible for funding, and protection must meet the requirements of Virginia’s Open-Space Land Act.

Get Outdoors Fund grants may be used to fund projects that create, protect, expand, or enhance access to open space in underserved communities. Proposals up to $25,000 may be considered.

The Get Outdoors Fund requires pre-applications to be submitted through VOF’s online grants portal by 5 p.m. on July 17, 2023. Invitations to submit a full application will be issued within one week of pre-application receipt.

Full applications for both programs must be submitted online by 5 p.m. on August 7, 2023. Eligibility requirements, sample applications, a timeline, and other materials may be found online at https://vof.org/ptf and https://vof.org/go.

VOF encourages potential applicants to contact staff prior to applying to discuss eligibility and seek guidance on producing a successful application. Contact grants@vof.org with questions or for information on how to apply. To schedule a short meeting with grant program staff to discuss project ideas, use https://doodle.com/bp/emilynelson/time-to-talk.

Blue Ridge Discovery Center, Smyth, Grayson and Washington Counties

The Blue Ridge Discovery Center hosts immersive outdoor experiences out of its headquarters in the Historic Konnarock School building at the foot of Whitetop Mountain.
The Blue Ridge Discovery Center hosts immersive outdoor experiences out of its headquarters in the Historic Konnarock School building at the foot of Whitetop Mountain.

Founded in 2008, the Blue Ridge Discovery Center (BRDC) used to spread the word about the natural beauty of the Blue Ridge Mountains by taking its educational programming on the road, holding events at various outdoors locations throughout southwest Virginia. That changed in 2017, when BRDC received the gift of the Konnarock Training School (KTS), a historic building on 5.21 acres at the foot of Whitetop Mountain. The gift changed everything, says Lisa Benish, BRDC’s executive director. “Now we’re a point on the map. When people get lost, they come to us to ask for directions.”

A 2022 grant from the Virginia Outdoors Foundation’s Preservation Trust Fund “helped get the doors open,” she adds, by funding renovations to the old building, once listed by Preservation Virginia as one of the Commonwealth’s most endangered historic sites. Built by the Lutheran mission to the Appalachians in 1925, the boarding and day school taught children from isolated mountain families everything from reading, writing and mathematics to canning food. It also had a health clinic and hosted gatherings, becoming part of the social glue that held Konnarock together after the loss of the lumber industry. KTS closed in 1959, and the building remained underused, changing owners several times before being gifted to BRDC.

Blue Ridge Discovery Center, Smyth, Grayson and Washington Counties
KTS brought children from isolated mountain families together for classes, social gatherings, and health services.

Before tackling the building renovations, however, BRDC began its residency by rehabilitating the grounds and restoring many of the habitats on the property, including a wetland complex, riparian corridor, wildflower meadows, and a northern hardwood cove forest. They also installed a rain garden. A 2021 grant from VOF’s Get Outdoors Fund made these areas accessible by enabling the construction of an accessible interpretive trail that loops around the campus, giving visitors of all abilities the chance to explore these areas.

The two VOF grants have helped BRDC reestablish the campus as an educational center and community gathering point, with the historic building acting as an events venue and base camp for school and group field trips, a summer camp, immersive youth residential programs and the Mount Rogers Naturalist Rallies—seasonal events that feature speakers, programs and excursions to celebrate the natural beauty of the Blue Ridge Mountains.

Work on the campus is ongoing, with a master plan that envisions a visitor center with ADA-compliant facilities for campers, a butterfly house, an amphitheater, and more trails. BRDC is currently raising funds for the visitor center. “We need more grant funding or an amazing donor,” she states. “But it will be a very quick build because the skeleton is already there. That will be huge for us because it will be right on the road, the gateway to our entire campus and to Mount Rogers.”

Blue Ridge Discovery Center, Smyth, Grayson and Washington Counties
The BRDC Master Plan envisions a visitors center, a butterfly house, an amphitheater, and more trails.

In the meantime, BRDC remains caretaker of the school’s history, says Benish, adding that they recently hosted the 89th birthday of a woman who had attended KTS as a girl. “She walked in, saw her whole family there and started crying,” Benish remembers. “It was such a great thing to see. We want to reach out to more alumni for reunions and other gatherings where they can relive old memories and make new ones.”

BRDC is also extending the school’s legacy, and creating its own, through its educational programs. “We’re especially focused on getting the local youth out on the trail so that they can see the assets that they have, right where they live,” Benish states. “If you take someone and show them that there are things out there worth protecting, they become stewards of the land. That’s how we meet our mission.”

Blue Ridge Discovery Center, Smyth, Grayson and Washington Counties
Summer camps directed toward regional youth are a big part of BRDC's programming.

14 projects awarded first grants from Coastal Resilience and Tree Fund

14 projects awarded first grants from Coastal Resilience and Tree Fund
The Friends of Dyke Marsh in Fairfax County received a CRTF grant to replace pumpkin ash trees being lost to invasive emerald ash borers, resulting in shoreline erosion.

Wetlands Watch and the Virginia Outdoors Foundation recently announced that $91,195 has been awarded to 14 projects from the first round of the Coastal Resilience and Tree Fund (CRTF).

CRTF grants support implementation of resilient practices and enhance the ability of organizations and government agencies to plan for future implementation of resiliency projects within the coastal zone. Project that are eligible for funding include those that:

  • Achieve increased resilience to flooding, sea level rise, and extreme weather events in Virginia’s coastal communities.
  • Increase tree canopy in the Coastal Zone and raise awareness of the value of trees as a best management practice and component of resiliency.
  • Raise public awareness about the role of nature-based solutions in improving community resilience.
  • Enhance the ability of organizations and government agencies to plan and implement resiliency projects within the Coastal Zone.

VOF provides funding for CRTF and Wetlands Watch administers the grants. Learn more at https://wetlandswatch.org/coastal-resilience-trees-fund.

Project titles, descriptions, and award amounts are detailed below.


Bamboo Harvest, Eradication and Replacement with Keystone Native Plants – $2,500

Project Summary: This project aims to develop and document a three-fold plan to clear a mature bamboo patch, to use cut bamboo to weave a privacy screen as an alternative to the screening between neighbors the bamboo now provides, and to plant in its place a mix of keystone native shrubs, trees, and perennials that benefit native insects and birds. Small, low bamboo fences across the drainage to slow run-off on the sloping site are also a potential use of this time-honored raw material.


Elizabeth River Project Resilience Lab Living Shoreline – $10,000

Project Summary: The project, known as the Ryan Resilience Lab, will consist of the redevelopment of the property at 4610 Colley Avenue, an innovative facility on Norfolk’s Knitting Mill Creek, which will demonstrate sustainable and flood-resilient building and landscaping practices. The Lab’s Learning Park will include a living shoreline, demonstrating how to hold off erosion while restoring oyster and wetland habitats.

Knitting Mill Creek Mayflower Road Riparian Buffer Phase 1 – $10,000

Project Summary: This proposal hopes to raise awareness for Knitting Mill Creek and address stormwater and tidal flooding on the West side by adding plant diversity and stormwater filtration with native grasses and flowering plants. By adding rich habitat for wildlife, it will also serve as an interpretive planting to showcase native plants. The goal is to display the beauty of native vegetation and help motivate residents and business owners to enhance habitat and improve community resilience.

Living Shoreline Williamsburg – $10,000

Project Summary: To build a living shoreline to protect the shore and minimize sediment running into the Chickahominy/James Rivers.

Reichenbacker Shoreline Protection – $10,000

Project Summary: 3,600 SF of upland wetland riparian buffer to be installed upland 100′ of natural shoreline at Buchanan Creek, a tributary of the Lynnhaven River feeding into the Chesapeake Bay in Virginia Beach. The planting will replace turf and bare soil where erosion is actively occurring, decreasing stormwater runoff with the deeply rooted plants, native to our area’s coastal plant communities. These 23 species may host at least 445 species of butterflies and moths in our area.

Replacing a Decaying Bulkhead with a Living Shoreline – $10,000

Project Summary: The project will replace rotting bulkhead with a Living Shoreline, both dynamic and resilient, unlike a hardened solution. The project will use an oyster reef sill to create viable habitat. Behind the reefs, sand with marsh grass plants, protected by an Envirolok growth bag system, will create erosion control in the upper tidal and storm surge zone. The combination will prevent marine waters from contacting soluble clays at the shoreline and provide a path for living organism migration as conditions change.


LRNOW Green Infrastructure – $5,000

Project Summary: The Lynnhaven River NOW office is located just South of the Windsor Woods neighborhood in an area that is well known for stormwater flooding. The location has a back lot that floods during heavy rains. This project will install a rain garden to catch and infiltrate stormwater, reducing runoff and flooding. The project will be designed and installed by a new environmentally friendly landscape firm with a CBLP Level I member under the supervision of a CBLP Level II LRNOW staff member. It will also serve as a demonstration rain garden for Virginia Beach residents that are interested in this type of best management practice.

McKendree Green Infrastructure – $6,700

Project Summary: The McKendree property is on a low lying peninsula surrounded by wetlands in the Back Bay watershed. The property has a low bulkhead that is frequently topped by windblown tides and a vegetated berm behind that to protect the homesite. Increased storm intensity has resulted in a combination of wind driven tides and heavy rainfall threatening the home with stormwater and windblown flooding. This project will install a 125 gallon rain barrel to capture roof runoff in a low lying area at the back of the house, a 4×20 foot rain garden to capture runoff from the roof and patio, and enhance the buffers along the shoreline.


Invasive Plant Management & Natural Area Restoration Along Appomattox River Blueway-Greenway Corridor – $3,900

Project Summary: Friends of the Lower Appomattox River will continue the development and implementation of a strategic, sustainable, and comprehensive invasive species management program, that will improve forest health and resilience, including plant diversity and habitat and natural areas and educate and empower community members to become actively involved in volunteer stewardship. This program will also increase the accessibility of parks, trails, and natural areas for the community.

Restoration Area in the James River Park System – $5,000

Project Summary: The approximately two-acre wooded Rapids Restoration Area in the Pony Pasture unit of the James River Park System has been a focus of invasive management for eight years, primarily removal of dense wintercreeper ground cover and Amur honeysuckle shrubs. Though there has been a healthy rebound of many native plant species, the understory continues to suffer from a paucity of native species diversity and requires restoration support.

Stewardship of the Bellemeade Green Street Project – $5,000

Project Summary: The James River Association and Groundwork RVA are working together to maintain the Bellemeade Green Street on the southside of the City of Richmond. Project stewardship activities include adding soil and mulch to stormwater best management practices installed along Minefee Street in 2021 and replacing trees, shrubs, and herbaceous plants that have died since they were planted.


Nichols Park Tree Planting – $5,000

Project Summary: The Nichols Park neighborhood is a densely populated area of town homes with a small landscaped filter strip between the sidewalk and the street. Large trees (mostly red maples) were originally planted in the filter strip and they have grown too large, causing damage to the sidewalks and poor health of the trees. A total of 33 native redbud and 33 native fringe trees will be planted in the filter strips and ten additional large native trees will be planted in the wet turf grass area to reforest the area. The project will improve stormwater management through filtration and transportation, decrease surface temperatures with shading, and sequester carbon through carbon uptake.

Tree Funding Proposal from the Friends of Dyke Marsh – $3,250

Project Summary: Dyke Marsh is a freshwater tidal marsh on the Potomac River in Fairfax County. Dredging from 1940 to 1972 destabilized the marsh, impairing its natural protection from tidal and storm surges. The emerald ash borer is destroying 1,000 to 1,200 dead pumpkin ash trees, the primary tree species in the intertidal zone. It is unlikely that dead tree roots can stabilize the marsh sediments. We propose to plant appropriate trees in stages to preserve the tidal marsh and its ecological functions.

Tree Planting in Oceana West Neighborhood of Virginia Beach – $4,845

Project Summary: The City of Virginia Beach has a goal of achieving a 45% tree canopy by 2045. As of 2018, the city was at 40.3% canopy, showing a net loss of 1.34% from 2012. Current funding accounts for replacing trees removed, but not enough to overcome the tree loss on private property. This grant money will be used to plant trees in Oceana Gardens West, which is an environmental justice area and in proximity to the Hilltop Area of the city, which is a heat island.

VOF announces $2.2 million for 22 open-space projects across Virginia

VOF announces $2.2 million for 22 open-space projects across Virginia
Friends of Southwest Virginia have received a grant that will help pay for a boat ramp, dock and ADA fishing pier at Big Cherry Lake in Wise County.

The Virginia Outdoors Foundation (VOF) today announced $2,275,154 in grants for projects that protect open space for public benefit in 21 counties and cities.

The 22 grants were awarded from VOF’s Preservation Trust Fund and Get Outdoors Fund grant programs. The Preservation Trust Fund program provides grants for acquisitions, easements, rights of way, and other methods of protecting open space for farming, forestry, recreation, wildlife, water quality, and more. The Get Outdoors Fund provides grants for projects that increase safe access to open space in communities.

To learn more about VOF’s grant programs, visit https://www.vof.org/protect/grants/.

Grant Recipient Summaries

Preservation Trust Fund


Grantee: Capital Region Land Conservancy

Locality: Chesterfield County

Grant Amount: $360,000

Project Title: Burton Family Farm: Brown Parcel

Description: Phase 2 of the Burton Farm consists of 1 parcel, in Chesterfield County, owned by Bernard Brown. The land for this Black Century Farm was first purchased in 1896. CRLC is working to assemble various parcels that have been divided off to preserve a fraction of the original farm to continue its agricultural uses and allow for historical interpretation of the emancipation of enslaved people along the Richmond/Petersburg turnpike in 1865. This second phase would add to this goal.


Grantee: City of Norfolk

Locality: City of Norfolk

Grant Amount: $404,625

Project Title: Elizabeth River Trail Larchmont Trailhead

Description: This project focuses on establishing the Larchmont Trailhead for the Elizabeth River Trail. The trailhead will include asphalt trail improvements, accessibility improvements, new signage, and a kayak launch.


Grantee: City of Suffolk

Locality: City of Suffolk

Grant Amount: $44,550

Project Title: Hobson Park Project

Description: The City of Suffolk would like to purchase a 0.32-acre parcel in the Hobson neighborhood of Suffolk in order to provide a community space for playing, relaxing, and recreating. There is currently no playground or public park in this community.


Grantee: Franklin Parks Foundation

Locality: City of Franklin

Grant Amount: $100,000

Project Title: Deer Creek Addition to Blackwater Park, Pt 2

Description: The Franklin Parks Foundation, in partnership with the Virginia Outdoors Foundation, will acquire these 96 acres of prime river frontage on the State Scenic Blackwater River for the creation of additional parkland and a primitive camp site. This property contains old growth hardwood bottomlands and contains forestlands categorized as FCV 4 & 5 (60 acres). The tract sits at the intersection of two Natural Heritage sites, the Blackwater River Main Stem Conservation site, and the Antioch SCU.


Grantee: Friends of Southwest Virginia

Locality: Wise County

Grant Amount: $150,000

Project Title: Big Cherry Lake, Big Stone Gap, VA

Description: An outdoor development initiative at Big Cherry Lake is underway to create a day and overnight destination that will enhance the High Knob area experience. The Town of Big Stone Gap owns the 250-acre lake; with support from the federal and state government, the Town has secured funds to create walking trails around the lake and develop 18 campsites at Big Cherry Lake. The next phase, and the purpose of this funding request to VOF, is to install a concrete boat ramp, courtesy pier, dock and ADA fishing pier.


Grantee: Little Creek Kung Fu

Locality: City of Petersburg

Grant Amount: $177,184

Project Title: Little Creek Native Free Food Forest

Description: We currently own 117, 115, 113, 109, & 105 N. Burch St. where we have already dedicated a tremendous amount of time and effort to the establishment of a Native Free Food Forest; aside from adding one more shed/building & a border fence (+ lots of watering, weeding, clearing, & planting), the remainder of the more substantial construction is nearing completion. Natives planted are: plum, persimmon, hazelnut, serviceberry, chokeberry, beautyberry, pawpaw, blueberry, + many other herbs & pollinators.


Grantee: Shenandoah County

Locality: Shenandoah County

Grant Amount: $300,000

Project Title: Shenandoah County Conservation and Public River Access Along the North Fork of the Shenandoah

Description: This project would enable Shenandoah County to purchase a 14-acre parcel located along a portion of the North Fork of the Shenandoah River that recently received its scenic river designation. We plan to grant VDOT an easement to build a new road and provide better transportation access to 7 Bends State Park, a 1,066-acre park located on the opposite side of the river and to grant DWR an easement for public river access boat ramps and parking then place the parcel under conservation easement.


Grantee: Town of Dungannon

Locality: Scott County

Grant Amount: $150,000

Project Title: On the Clinch to Learn, Discover, Enjoy

Description: The Town of Dungannon is creating a community-owned river research and learning center by (1) purchasing private property adjacent to and overlooking the local community river park (doubling the size of the existing park), (2) converting it to a public green space and environmental education center, and (3) building an outdoor classroom, greenhouse and walking trail at a nearby school that will connect to the Center. The Center is partnering with local high schools, colleges and civic groups.


Grantee: Town of Honaker

Locality: Russell County

Grant Amount: $148,000

Project Title: Town of Honaker Outdoor Recreation Expansion

Description: Our goal is to purchase the property at 100 Fairmont St. that joins Lewis Creek. We have permission from the current owners to use the trails and the Creek for our Annual Kids Fishing Day (stream is stocked with trout free of charge for children aged 15 and under). The property is now for sale, and we are at risk of losing access to the trails and stream. If successful, we plan to build a bridge across the stream to connect trails on both sides of the stream for people of all abilities.


Grantee: Town of Vinton

Locality: Roanoke County

Grant Amount: $218,295

Project Title: Vinton’s Multi-Generational Park

Description: Vinton, Virginia is building its first multi-generational park to promote healthy living and community engagement. The park’s mission aligns with the Town’s branding slogan, Are you IN?, aiming to encourage locals to participate in outdoor activities and connect with their hometown and neighbors. The 5-acre park will be centrally located and boast a stunning view of the Roanoke Valley. The Town is the landowner of the park site, and it will be developed in different phases.


Get Outdoors


Grantee: Autism Sanctuary, Inc.

Locality: Albemarle County

Grant Amount: $25,000

Project Title: Weekly Respite at Autism Sanctuary

Description: Autism Sanctuary is a nonprofit respite space in Central Virginia created to serve the local autistic population. Through our walking trails and farm, we provide an engaging outdoor environment for all individuals regardless of their needs. We are seeking support to implement a weekly outdoor enrichment and education program for autistic individuals with high support needs who may receive fewer community services. Funding will allow our program to thrive and support many local families.


Grantee: Botanical Garden of the Piedmont

Locality: Albemarle County

Grant Amount: $15,000

Project Title: Equitable Access to World Water Week Programming

Description: This collaborative project will transport disadvantaged children in Charlottesville summer programs (YMCA, Boys & Girls Clubs, Abundant Life Ministries, City of Promise) to outdoor water-themed educational programming in Botanical Garden of the Piedmont (BGP) and Ivy Creek Natural Area (ICNA) in anticipation of World Water Week. Age-appropriate activities will include water quality testing, ecological hikes, water bird identification, nature literacy and nature-themed art programs.


Grantee: Dungannon Elementary School

Locality: Scott County

Grant Amount: $25,000

Project Title: Get Up & Go Playground Project

Description: Our playground project would include the purchase and installation of a playground structure with climbing walls, slides, and other fun, outdoor recreational pieces such as seesaws and balance beams for ages 2-12. There will be benches placed around the playground structure for children to rest and for teachers/parents to be able to supervise. We would also like to purchase a shade structure to provide protection from the sun. Playground borders and mulch will be used for safety purposes.


Grantee: Friends of Fonticello Park

Locality: City of Richmond

Grant Amount: $20,000

Project Title: The Native Meadow Project: Creating Equitable Access to Natural Urban Educational Spaces in Fonticello Park

Description: The native meadow will be an educational natural space, where children and community members can learn about native, local ecosystem plants, how they support wildlife and pollinators, increase soil health, and contribute to cleaner waterways. We will facilitate work with neighborhood schools and organizations to have kids part of the project, including plant selection, design of the space, prepping the land, planting, and participating in future maintenance and educational programming.


Grantee: Greater Richmond Fit4Kids

Locality: City of Richmond

Grant Amount: $10,000

Project Title: Fit4Kids Game On, Girl! Field Trips

Description: Fit4Kids Game On, Girl! program empowers adolescent girls to be physically active and nutritionally fit, through a 10-week, after-school program. Coaches introduce girls to a variety of individual and team sports. The nature of after-school programs pose limitations to the activities students can participate in. This project would allow Fit4Kids program staff to lead girls on active, outdoor field trips where they can enjoy the open spaces surrounding them to increase access to nature.


Grantee: Ivanhoe Civic League

Locality: Carroll County

Grant Amount: $25,000

Project Title: Ivanhoe Civic League Park & Horse Show Grounds

Description: The League has owned and operated Jubilee Park and Horse Show Grounds for more than 20 years. All the facilities are in need of rehabilitation and improvement. Plans include placing new gravel surface on existing roads and creating a new entrance road, renovation of the existing music stage, concession and bathroom facilities, and horseshow ring, as well as improving camping sites, including adding (water, electric and septic hookup) sites, and adding a new fitness trail and playground area.


Grantee: Keep Prince William Beautiful

Locality: Prince William County

Grant Amount: $10,000

Project Title: Dale City Elementary Trail & Outdoor Classroom Improvement

Description: Dale City Elementary School currently has a trail that runs from the school to a section of the Neabsco Creek. This trail has been used by teachers to access the creek to teach students about water quality, conduct Meaningful Watershed Educational Experience (MWEE) activities on site and in the outdoor classroom located along the trail. Erosion and weather event impacts have made the trail impassable. Keep Prince William Beautiful will implement a trail and outdoor classroom renovation.


Grantee: Middle Peninsula Planning District Commission

Locality: Gloucester County

Grant Amount: $25,000

Project Title: MP-PAA Trail Blazer Initiative

Description: The MP-PAA is proposing a trail creation project at publicly owned Captain Sinclair’s Recreational Area (CSRA) to provide underserved citizens better access to public property. CSRA recently doubled in size from 100 to 200 acres. Knott Alone-Hold Fast Inc, a nonprofit organization providing hands on nature-based therapy to veterans battling effects from military service, will contract with the PAA for veterans to plan and build an estimated 3-5 mi of unimproved trails as integrative therapy.


Grantee: Sperryville Community Alliance

Locality: Rappahannock County

Grant Amount: $15,000

Project Title: Sperryville Trail Forest Canopy Restoration

Description: Expand existing project scope by removing invasive species from new areas along the Thornton River and planting them with native trees to complete the restoration of the tree canopy. Add interpretive signs describing the riparian enhancements. Project will encourage residents and visitors of all ages to relax and enjoy the river’s natural surroundings while accessing the village’s many amenities in a safe walking environment. Increases safe access by users to new areas of the trail.


Grantee: White House Farm Foundation

Locality: Prince William County

Grant Amount: $25,000

Project Title: Accessible Bird Watching at Leopold’s Preserve

Description: Enhance accessibility of key birding locations at Leopold’s Preserve, with particular focus on access for underserved visitors who face mobility challenges. Redesign elements of the wetland observation platform to ensure that visitors who use wheelchairs have unobstructed views of the landscape and can easily read the interpretive signage. Add seating around the platform’s edge. Extend the length of paved trail to add a second accessible viewing location, including a bench.


Grantee: Wildrock

Locality: City of Charlottesville

Grant Amount: $2,500

Project Title: Wildrock’s Outdoor Explorers Program

Description: Wildrock’s Outdoor Explorers Program will bring children from a Title 1 elementary school to a local park where staff will facilitate nature play. The curriculum will incorporate environmental science and social and emotional learning. Children will be invited based on needs identified by school mental health professionals.


Grantee: Youth Sailing Virginia Inc.

Locality: City of Hampton

Grant Amount: $25,000

Project Title: Start Sailing Early at Youth Sailing Virginia!

Description: The shovel-ready project expands programs to elementary school-age kids by buying 6 Sail Cube beginner boats and 6 sets of tier 1 sails. The infrastructure upgrades increase access to open public outdoor water spaces and bring us within reach of upgrading 100% of our fleet of 18. It expands water safety and sailing instruction to underserved youth at all skill levels. The project builds diversity and maximizes access to outdoor sailing for all socioeconomic backgrounds, teaching life skills.