January 12, 2024-
Priest Wilderness connection protected in the Trust’s first East Coast project
The Wilderness Land Trust has acquired 10 acres of valley forest directly connecting the Tye River and Priest Wilderness of Virginia, ensuring that habitat connectivity, watershed protection, and the wilderness experience of thousands of visitors a year is not interrupted by the threat of development.
This week we are celebrating a new acquisition adjoining Virginia’s Priest Wilderness, not just for the habitat it will directly protect, but as a major milestone for our organization. In 2022 the Trust set a strategic goal to expand our work east of the Rockies in response to a growing need to protect lands in and around the often smaller wilderness areas of the East. With little buffer of public lands surrounding them, they are particularly vulnerable to the impacts of private development at their borders. The Tye River acquisition marks a first step in pursuing this goal, and is also a prime example of its importance.
Only a few hours’ drive away, the 6,000-acre Priest Wilderness provides access to life-changing wilderness experiences for the millions of residents of Richmond, Virginia, and the Washington DC metro area. The Tye River, a tributary of the James River, is one of the most scenic and popular recreational waterways in Virginia, and provides critical habitat to dozens of species of fish and aquatic wildlife. The famed Appalachian Trail also runs through the Priest Wilderness, only a few miles from the Tye River project. The George Washington National Forest, where the Priest Wilderness is located, provides drinking water for over 4 million people, and is part of the imperiled Chesapeake Bay Watershed. Protecting intact ecosystems in the watershed is critical to its health and the supply of clean, safe drinking water.
The Priest Wilderness and Tye River connect over the span of only a mile, creating an important link in habitat connectivity for species like black bears, peregrine falcons, and lady’s slipper orchids. The Tye River property sits in the middle of this connection, and its protection ensures this important link will remain intact.
As with almost all of our projects, local community partnerships played an important role in the success of the project. The property was first brought to the Trust’s attention by the Virginia Wilderness Committee, which helped to secure wilderness designation for the Priest Wilderness in 2000. “The acquisition of this small parcel of land along the Tye River, closes an important gap in land adjacent to The Priest and will protect The Priest Wilderness from the sights and sounds of future development” says Ellen Stuart-Haëntjens, Executive Director of Virginia Wilderness Committee.