The Virginia Natural Area Preserves System was established in the late 1980's to protect some of the most significant natural areas in the Commonwealth. A site becomes a component of the preserve system once it is dedicated as a natural area preserve by the Director of the Department of Conservation & Recreation. Natural area dedication works in much the same way as a conservation easement by placing legally binding restrictions on future activities on a property. The Natural Area Preserve System includes examples of some of the rarest natural communities and rare species habitats in Virginia. This system now includes sixty three dedicated natural areas totaling 55,894 acres.
Most of the preserves are owned by the Department of Conservation and Recreation, but some are lands owned by local governments, universities, private citizens and The Nature Conservancy (a private conservation organization).
Each natural area preserve is managed primarily for the benefit of the rare plants, animals and natural communities found there. Some preserves feature low-intensity public access facilities such as trails and parking. These are open year-round during daylight hours but may be subject to temporary closure to protect sensitive species or during some management activities, such as prescribed burning. Access to other preserves is restricted but generally may be arranged by contacting the site owner or manager.
Personal Mobility on Trails
The Commonwealth of Virginia's natural area preserves, state forests, state parks and wildlife management areas offer hundreds of miles of trails designed for people to enjoy (or access) the outdoors. These trails offer the public opportunities to experience and enjoy the state's flora, fauna, cultural resources and scenic beauty. Hiking, angling, boating, hunting, wildlife watching, bicycling and horseback riding are proven contributors to good physical health and mental well-being – part of a healthy lifestyle that reduces illness, obesity and anxiety for all.
Effective March 15, 2011, these trails will be open to wheelchairs, including manual and power wheelchairs, personal mobility assistive scooters, and certain other similar devices designed primarily to assist people with disabilities. Users are encouraged to use caution when selecting trails, as many were designed for foot traffic only. Terrain might make them unsuitable for personal mobility devices. As part of their commitment to making Virginia's public lands places for all to enjoy, the Virginia Departments of Conservation and Recreation, Forestry, and Game and Inland Fisheries are also in the process of evaluating safety concerns and environmental impacts of opening these trails to the use of other power driven mobility devices by individuals with mobility disabilities. Please check this webpage periodically for updates.
Regulations: Except for certain specific situations, camping, fires, unleashed pets, hunting, off-road vehicles and removal or destruction of plants, animals, minerals or historic artifacts are prohibited on all Virginia Natural Area Preserves.
Click here to read and/or download a brochure about Virginia's Natural Area Preserves with public access.