Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation-Richmond
A Virginia natural area preserve near the West Virginia border featuring old-growth forests has doubled in size with funding support from the Virginia Outdoors Foundation.
The Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation has expanded Chestnut Ridge Natural Area Preserve by purchasing 775 acres of land, bringing the size of this preserve in Giles and Bland counties to 1,596 acres.
“With this expansion of Chestnut Ridge Natural Area Preserve, we are protecting core forest habitat for native plants, natural communities and animals in the Central Appalachian region,” said DCR Director Matthew Wells. “This addition also protects a ConserveVirginia land conservation priority, including a scenic corridor and 1.5 miles of riparian forest along Dry Fork, a native trout stream.”
Virginia’s natural area preserve system was established to protect habitats for rare plants and animals as well as the state’s best examples of natural communities. A natural community is an assemblage of native plants and animals that occurs repeatedly on the landscape under similar ecological conditions.
The original Chestnut Ridge preserve has an outstanding example of a Central Appalachian Chestnut Oak-Northern Red Oak forest with old-growth characteristics including individual trees over 300 years old. Two additional natural communities have been documented on the newly acquired portions of the Chestnut Ridge preserve, both of which are among the best of their types in Virginia. These include Central Appalachian Montane Oak-Hickory Forest Central and a globally and state imperiled Central Appalachian Mountain Pond.
“Our protection work to expand the amount of forest land and natural communities in and around Chestnut Ridge will go a long way to ensuring that the existing old-growth forests in the heart of the natural area preserve remain undisturbed and resilient,” said Jason Bulluck, director of the Virginia Natural Heritage Program at DCR, which manages the state’s 66 natural area preserves. “The entire area is classified as an ‘outstanding’ ecological core – the highest possible ranking in the Virginia Natural Landscape Assessment.”
The preserve, originally 233 acres, was established in 2006 with an open space easement and natural area deed of dedication recorded by the former landowners through a grant from the Virginia Land Conservation Foundation. In 2020, the first preserve expansion occurred through DCR’s purchase of additional forested areas lying to the north and the south.
The name of the preserve is a nod to the American chestnut, a formerly significant component of the forest here. Once an integral part of forests throughout the Appalachian region, this species has been decimated everywhere by the chestnut blight fungus, but, with the development of novel genotypes, may someday be restored across its native range.
As DCR’s ownership began only in 2020, resources have not been made available for public access facilities, parking areas nor established trails on the property.
Funds for the latest acquisition were awarded through VOF’s Forest Community Opportunities for Restoration and Enhancement (CORE) Fund, which was established to mitigate for forest fragmentation caused by the Mountain Valley Pipeline.