In 1608, during Captain John Smith’s exploration of the Chesapeake Bay, he was ambushed by a tribe of Native American Indians atop Fones Cliffs on the Rappahannock River. The Rappahannock Tribe villagers atop the cliffs signaled to the warriors lying in wait in the marsh across the river from the cliffs. The Rappahannock then emerged from the marsh and ambushed the explorer and his crew. Although Smith’s ships were able to pass through unharmed, Fones Cliffs became a staple of Rappahannock history and will forever be remembered for the tribe’s dedication to preserving their sacred land.

Today, 252 acres of Fones Cliffs have been officially protected as part of the Rappahannock River Valley National Wildlife Refuge, where it will remain unhindered by development and open for public visitation.


After more than ten years — and efforts from many partners — The Conservation Fund was able to successfully purchase the 252-acre Fones Cliffs property from a private landowner who had gained approval for more than 40 houses atop the cliffs. We then transferred the property in 2019 to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) so it could remain under their management as part of the Refuge. Thanks to funding from the federal Land and Water Conservation Fund, as well as the support of many partners, this Fones Cliffs property now supports greater opportunity for public recreation and helps preserve the value this land has to the Rappahannock Tribe and Virginia community.


Ensuring that Fones Cliffs remained protected and open to the public was the only acceptable result for this decade-long effort. Aside from the Rappahannock’s 1608 encounter with Captain John Smith, Fones Cliffs was also home to three Rappahannock towns: Pisacack, Matchopeak, and Mecuppon. Now, the Rappahannock Tribe will be able to use this property to educate future generations about the importance of the land, and visitors alike can come to hike, search for wildlife, and enjoy the cliffs truly indescribable beauty.

But Fones Cliffs isn’t just rich with history and great views. It is one of the most pristine locations on the east coast to view bald eagles. The 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 populations were at their lowest, bald eagles could still be found here. As part of the Refuge, habitat for these eagles and various wildlife will remain under the USFWS’s permanent protection.