June 28, 2019

Partners Celebrate the Protection of Virginia's Historic Fones Cliffs on the Rappahannock River

RICHMOND COUNTY, Va. — Today, the completion of a decade-long collaborative effort to ensure protection of the historic Fones Cliffs on the Rappahannock River was celebrated at the site. Representatives of The Conservation Fund and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service were joined by Rappahannock Tribe Chief Anne Richardson, U.S. Representative Rob Wittman, representatives for U.S. Senators Mark Warner and Tim Kaine, and other critical supporters of this effort.

The 252-acre parcel atop Fones Cliffs will be added to the Rappahannock River Valley National Wildlife Refuge for permanent protection. The cliffs are a key feature of the Captain John Smith Chesapeake National Historic Trail and an iconic landmark for the Rappahannock Tribe and American history.

Photo credit: Zhivko Illeieff

The property was acquired by The Conservation Fund and transferred to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service using federal funding from the Land and Water Conservation Fund. As part of the Refuge, the biological and historical significance of the land will be honored in perpetuity. Opportunities for hiking, bird-watching, and other wildlife-dependent recreation will be expanded.

“The significance of preserving the Fones Cliffs property goes beyond environmental conservation,” said Larry Selzer, President and CEO at The Conservation Fund. “It is a critical stepping stone in our nation’s history. Ensuring that Fones Cliffs remains protected and open to the public was the only acceptable result for this decade-long effort.”

“We are grateful for The Conservation Fund and many other partners, as well as for the support from the Land and Water Conservation Fund, in ensuring that the natural and cultural resources of this property will be safeguarded for future generations of Americans,” said Wendi Weber, Northeast Regional Director for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. “The addition of the Fones Cliffs Tract to the Rappahannock River Valley National Wildlife Refuge conserves important wildlife habitat while preserving a site of historic significance to the Rappahannock Tribe and to the nation. It also opens the door to recreational opportunities for people to connect with nature and enjoy the outdoors.”

Fones Cliffs was once home to three American Indian towns: Pisacack, Matchopeak, and Mecuppon. During Captain John Smith’s Chesapeake exploration in 1608, he traveled up the Rappahannock River, passing under Fones Cliffs, where a group of Rappahannock Indians lay in wait to ambush the unsuspecting explorer and his crew. Although Smith’s crew was protected by shields and continued upstream without further incident, this land has great significance to the Rappahannock people and the surrounding community.

“We are so pleased to see this portion of the Cliffs protected from development,” said Rappahannock Tribe Chief Anne Richardson. “This is the land where our ancestors lived for thousands of years and it is sacred to our Tribe. Thanks to all the partners who understand how essential land preservation is to our very existence.”

Photo credit: Zhivko Illeieff

The protection of Fones Cliffs was achieved with funding from the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF). LWCF is a federal funding source that uses a portion of offshore energy revenue to fund conservation at no cost to taxpayers. It is a tremendously successful program that provides unmatched economic, environmental, social, cultural, and historical value to Americans.  LWCF funds were allocated to the Rappahannock River Refuge and were pivotal in the permanent conservation of Fones Cliffs. Virginia Environmental Endowment and other individual and institutional donors helped cover transactional costs associated with the purchase of this land.

Speaking at today’s event, U.S. Representative Rob Wittman stated: “Fones Cliffs is a high priority conservation site as it has one of the largest concentrations of bald eagles in the continental United States and we are proud to have it in the First District. After years of hard work and cooperation, I am thrilled the Department of Interior now has this land in the refuge system. Fones Cliffs and its wildlife will now be permanently preserved so it can be enjoyed for generations to come.”

“After a years-long collaborative effort, I am thrilled that we are celebrating the addition of Fones Cliffs to the Rappahannock River Valley National Wildlife Refuge,” said U.S. Senator Mark Warner. “The cliffs are an integral piece of the Captain John Smith Trail and a historically significant landmark for the Rappahannock Tribe. This expansion will preserve an important piece of Virginia’s history while improving the health of the Bay and expanding recreational opportunities for locals and visitors alike.”

“I’m thrilled that Fones Cliffs will remain protected for future generations to enjoy,” said U.S. Senator Tim Kaine. “Virginia’s beautiful landscapes are a key part of what makes our Commonwealth so special. I’ve been glad to support the collaborative effort to preserve this landmark, and I thank all the advocates I’ve worked with who have helped make this day possible.”

The reach of the Rappahannock River where Fones Cliffs is located is one of the most pristine in the Chesapeake Bay watershed. Bald eagle experts commonly refer to Fones Cliffs as a bald eagle “bull’s eye.” Eagles use the property’s high elevation to survey the river for hunting opportunities, and it is not uncommon to see up to 400 eagles along this stretch of river. Even when eagle populations were at their lowest, they could still be found here.

The Rappahannock River Valley National Wildlife Refuge was established in 1996 to conserve and protect fish and wildlife resources, threatened and endangered species, and wetlands. While the Refuge currently encompasses more than 9,000 acres, the goal is to protect 20,000 acres of land, preserving habitat and increasing wildlife-dependent recreational opportunities for the public.

About U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
The mission of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is working with others to conserve, protect and enhance fish, wildlife, plants and their habitats for the continuing benefit of the American people. We are both a leader and trusted partner in fish and wildlife conservation, known for our scientific excellence, stewardship of lands and natural resources, dedicated professionals and commitment to public service. For more information on our work and the people who make it happen, visit www.fws.gov.

About The Conservation Fund
At The Conservation Fund, we make conservation work for America. By creating solutions that make environmental and economic sense, we are redefining conservation to demonstrate its essential role in our future prosperity. Top-ranked for efficiency and effectiveness, we have worked in all 50 states since 1985 to protect more than eight million acres of land, including nearly 70,000 acres in Virginia.  www.conservationfund.org

Val Keefer | The Conservation Fund | 703-908-5802 | vkeefer@conservationfund.org
Lauri Munroe-Hultman | U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service | 413-253-8404 | lauri_munroe-hultman@fws.gov