Home Cedars Natural Area Preserve in Southwest Virginia grows by 175 acres

Cedars Natural Area Preserve in Southwest Virginia grows by 175 acres

Crystal Graham
Photo by Gary P. Fleming, Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation

The Cedars Natural Area Preserve is growing – by 175 acres to be exact. The Lee County preserve along the Powell River is home to endangered freshwater mussel species.

With the additional acreage, The Cedars, is now 2,265 acres. It is one of Virginia’s 66 natural area reserves. The statewide program protects habitats for rare plants and animals and is managed by the natural heritage program in the Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation.

“This nearly three-year effort would not have been the success it is without our strong partnerships with the Virginia Department of Wildlife Resources and The Nature Conservancy, and financial support from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service,” said Jason Bulluck, director of the Virginia natural heritage program. “This region is known as a global biodiversity hotspot: caves and karst features with some of the rarest species on the planet; healthy waters and native aquatic communities, including several imperiled fish and mussel species; and unique natural communities providing habitat for dozens of native plant and animal species.”

Funding for five parcels added to The Cedars since May 2021 came from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Recovery Lands Acquisition program, which funds land conservation directly supporting the recovery of imperiled species.

The Cedars and the surrounding area are part of a “karst” landscape, where limestone bedrock dissolves to create sinkholes, caves and springs. In this region, water quality is not only impacted by what flows over the surface of the land along river frontage. Water from upland areas flows into sinkholes or streams that go underground, to resurface again in drinking water and in rivers.

“The conservation and restoration of habitat in the Upper Tennessee River system is one of our top priorities for supporting the incredible diversity of wildlife that lives in Virginia, particularly in those rivers,” said Becky Gwynn, deputy director of the Virginia Department of Wildlife Resources. “This work is an important part of our efforts to restore populations of rare freshwater mussels and fish and manage healthy, robust communities of aquatic wildlife.”

In addition to threatened or endangered mussels and fish that live in the Powell River, rare animals have also been discovered by Natural Heritage scientists in nearby springs and caves. One parcel includes natural springs where the endangered Lee County Cave isopod (a small, freshwater crustacean) lives.

The acquisitions also enhance protection of habitat for gray bats and rare plants at The Cedars.

Agency scientists have observed gray bats, an endangered species, returning to the Gibson-Frazier cave at the natural area preserve.

Rare plants, which have adapted to the region’s thin soils and climate, include running glade clover (Trifolium calcaricum) and yarrowleaf ragwort (Packera millefolium).

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Crystal Graham

Crystal Graham

Crystal Abbe Graham is the regional editor of Augusta Free Press. A 1999 graduate of Virginia Tech, she has worked for nearly 25 years as a reporter and editor for several Virginia publications, written a book, and garnered more than a dozen Virginia Press Association awards for writing and graphic design. She was the co-host of "Viewpoints," a weekly TV news show, and co-host of Virginia Tonight, a nightly TV news show. Her work on "Virginia Tonight" earned her a national Telly award for excellence in television.