December 9, 2022

The Conservation Fund Acquires Largest Unconserved Portion of Fones Cliffs, Halting Development Threats

RICHMOND COUNTY, Va. — Building on its earlier work to protect Virginia’s historic Fones Cliffs, The Conservation Fund today announced its acquisition of an additional 964 acres along the Rappahannock River. This land, which was for years under threat of significant commercial and residential development, represents the largest unconserved portion of Fones Cliffs.

The Fund’s purchase, finalized Dec. 8, is an interim step in protecting the property. In the months ahead, the Fund will work with its partners at the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) and the Rappahannock Tribe to permanently conserve the property and protect the site’s natural resources and cultural importance. Ultimately, the USFWS will purchase a conservation easement on the land, using federal funding from the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF), and then the Fund intends to transfer the encumbered land to the tribe during the latter half of 2023.

“Years of tracking this property through multiple owners and a complex bankruptcy proceeding has finally brought us to this acquisition,” said Heather Richards, the Fund’s Mid-Atlantic regional director. “We’re thrilled that we were able to seize our chance to purchase the property and work with our partners to protect this significant place for future generations. Working with the Tribe and the USFWS over the next year, we will ensure that the wildlife habitat and cultural importance of this remarkable property is protected in perpetuity.”

“With the help of The Conservation Fund and other partners, this transaction is of upmost importance for the Rappahannocks to be able to return to the lands of our ancestors,” said Chief Anne Richardson of the Rappahannock Tribe. “It’s incredibly healing for our Tribe today and to know that it will be preserved perpetually for future generations ensures stability in the hearts of our elders for tomorrow.”

“This is a true milestone in a long hoped for conservation effort,” said Marcie Kapsch, USFWS project leader of the Eastern Virginia Rivers National Wildlife Refuge Complex. “The Conservation Fund’s commitment to the cultural and historic resources of Fones Cliffs will allow ever greater collaborative conservation between Rappahannock River Valley National Wildlife Refuge and Rappahannock Tribe, which was first formalized with the conservation of a 460-acre parcel along Fones Cliffs during the spring of 2022.”

The Conservation Fund, a national nonprofit land trust dedicated to conserving land and building vibrant communities, purchased the land through a bankruptcy proceeding. The previous owner, the Virginia True Corporation, had intended to build an exclusive resort and second home development on the property in northwest Richmond County. Unpermitted work to clear the land triggered a series of events that culminated with the corporation’s bankruptcy. The Conservation Fund was the highest bid at the bankruptcy auction, paying $8.1 million.

The LWCF, which was fully and permanently funded through the Great American Outdoors Act, is a bipartisan program that conserves ecologically, scenically and culturally valuable land across the nation. Virginia’s U.S. congressional delegation representing the Rappahannock River Valley National Wildlife Refuge — U.S. Senator Mark Warner, U.S. Senator Tim Kaine and U.S. Representative Rob Wittman — supported the use of LWCF funding for this project.

“I’m thrilled by this important step to permanently protect this critical piece of Fones Cliffs,” U.S. Senator Warner said. “This land holds tremendous historical, ecological, and cultural value for the Commonwealth and the Rappahannock Tribe. I look forward to working with The Conservation Fund, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and my colleagues to ensure a seamless and timely transfer of this property to the Rappahannock Tribe.”

“I am thrilled that Fones Cliffs will be further protected and that Virginians will be able to enjoy this beautiful area for years to come,” U.S. Senator Kaine said. “Its acquisition is an important step in returning the Rappahannock Tribe’s ancestral lands. I’ve been proud to support the collaborative efforts that made this possible.”

“The Conservation Fund’s announcement of the acquisition of the largest unconserved portion of Fones Cliff is an incredible win for the Rappahannock Tribe, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and all of Virginia,” U.S. Representative Wittman said. “Fones Cliff is an incredible treasure, and I have been fortunate to work alongside local leaders, organizations, and the Rappahannock Tribe to ensure the cultural significance and natural resources remain preserved and cherished for years to come. I want to both congratulate and thank The Conservation Fund, the Rappahannock Tribe, and USFWS on this announcement, and I look forward to continuing our partnership to preserve and protect such a significant area in our great Commonwealth of Virginia.”

Located within the boundary of the Rappahannock River Valley National Wildlife Refuge, the 964 acres are part of an area that contains one of the highest concentrations of bald eagles in the Chesapeake region, as well as habitat for osprey, waterfowl and migratory songbirds.

In addition to the biological importance of the property, it is of critical importance to the Rappahannock Tribe. The Rappahannock Tribe lost its homeland and its presence on the river until recent efforts to return the Fones Cliffs lands to the Tribe. The Tribe, which achieved federal recognized status in 2018, set about reconnecting itself and its members to the river that bears their name. Once transferred to the Tribe in 2023, these 964 acres will more than double the Tribe’s land holdings, returning to them land that was taken by European settlers. Notably, this land is believed to have once been the location of the village of Wecuppom and the river stretch is along the Captain John Smith Chesapeake National Historic Trail. In 1608, Captain John Smith encountered the Rappahannock Tribe, who defended the area from atop of Fones Cliffs as he explored the river and Chesapeake Bay.

“Chesapeake Conservancy is thrilled at the decisive action taken by The Conservation Fund to secure this incredibly important property,” said Joel Dunn, Chesapeake Conservancy’s president and CEO. “We are grateful to be among the partners who have worked so hard and for so long to conserve this iconic formation and return the lands to tribal stewardship. We celebrate that the conservation of Fones Cliffs is nearing completion with these 964 acres along with the 252 acres conserved by the Fund and USFWS in 2019, and the 465 acres donated to the Rappahannock Tribe by Chesapeake Conservancy in 2022.”

This is not the Fund’s first foray into protecting land along Fones Cliffs. In 2019, The Conservation Fund purchased property just downstream of the 964 acres along the Rappahannock River and transferred it to the USFWS for inclusion in the Rappahannock River Valley National Wildlife Refuge. For more information about that project, visit The Conservation Fund’s website.

The Fund will work with the Rappahannock Tribe and the USFWS to monitor the property during the Fund’s interim ownership.

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 8.5 million acres of land, including over 84,000 acres in Virginia.

Contact: Joshua Lynsen | 703-908-5809 |