newsgiles and bland counties natural area preserve doubles in size with state funding

Chestnut Ridge Natural Area Preserve doubles in size with state funding

virginia department of conservation and recreationThe Chestnut Ridge Natural Area Preserve is named after the American chestnut.

The tree once made up a significant portion of the forest area in Virginia near the West Virginia border.

Support from the Virginia Outdoors Foundation has doubled the size of the area to protect significant ecological forest core with old-growth trees. By purchasing 775 acres, The Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation (DCR) has brought the size of the 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,” 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.”

The natural area preserve system in Virginia 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.

Central Appalachian Chestnut Oak-Northern Red Oak forest with old-growth characteristics are present in the original Chestnut Ridge preserve, including trees that are more than 300 years old. Two additional natural communities also documented in the preserve are 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,” Jason Bulluck, director of the Virginia Natural Heritage Program at DCR, said. “The entire area is classified as an ‘outstanding’ ecological core – the highest possible ranking in the Virginia Natural Landscape Assessment.”

The Virginia Natural Heritage Program at DCR manages the state’s 66 natural area preserves.

Chestnut Ridge was originally 233 acres and 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 American chestnut was once an integral part of forests throughout the Appalachian region, but has been decimated everywhere by the chestnut blight fungus. The species may be restored to native ranges with the development of novel genotypes.

Resources are not yet available for public access facilities, parking areas or established trails on the property.

Funds 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.

Rebecca Barnabi

Rebecca Barnabi

Rebecca J. Barnabi is the national editor of Augusta Free Press. A graduate of the University of Mary Washington, she began her journalism career at The Fredericksburg Free-Lance Star. In 2013, she was awarded first place for feature writing in the Maryland, Delaware, District of Columbia Awards Program, and was honored by the Virginia School Boards Association’s 2019 Media Honor Roll Program for her coverage of Waynesboro Schools. Her background in newspapers includes writing about features, local government, education and the arts.