DICKENSON COUNTY, Va. (WJHL) – Outdoor recreation in Southwest Virginia has expanded by more than 20,000 acres open to the public.
A release from the Virginia Department of Wildlife Resources (DWR) states that 22,316 acres in Buchanan, Dickenson and Russell Counties will now serve as hunting, fishing, hiking, boating and wildlife viewing grounds.
The DWR reports the properties are near Breaks, Dante and Vansant. The three areas are designated as new additions to the state’s Public Opportunities for Wildlife-Related Recreation (POWRR) properties. The other eight POWRR properties added together do not equal the acreage of even one of the three new parcels.
The three parcels are owned by The Nature Conservancy and are part of the 150,000-acre Cumberland Forest Highlands property.
Brad Kreps, Clinch Valley Program Director with The Nature Conservancy said the organization is hopeful that by expanding the access to the parcels, more people will take advantage of the natural beauty.
“One of our hopes for the Cumberland Forest is to find ways we can support outdoor recreation and creating access for local people to nature to enjoy the wonderful outdoors that we have in Southwest Virginia,” Kreps said.
“It’s gonna open up a variety of opportunities for people to enjoy these lands.”
7,816 acres are included in the Breaks Parcel, with access points in Buchanan and Dickenson Counties. The DWR reports the area spans between Breaks and Greenbrier and will give hunters “excellent opportunities to hunt deer, bear, turkey and small game.”
The Breaks Parcel will also allow more area to hunt elk for anyone who is one of the few to win the DWR’s elk hunt lottery and be given a license.
The release states the Dante Parcel includes 9,809 acres with access points in Russell County. Wildlife officials said in the release the Mountain View trail system will soon give both hikers and bikers ample opportunities to enjoy stunning views and wildlife viewing in the area. The Southwest Regional Recreation Authority, who manages the trails, plans to open those new trails in the spring of 2023.
According to the DWR, the Vansant Parcel includes 4,235 acres and is primarily located on Big Fox and Little Fox Creeks. Like the Breaks Parcel, the DWR stated that this area provides good hunting opportunities for deer, bear, turkey and small game.
Additionally, there is a chance of spotting elk in the Vansant Parcel. While they will not be as numerous as in the Breaks area, about 780 acres near War Fork will be managed as part of the Elk Conservation Area with public access only being granted during special events. Southwest Virginia’s herd of elk were originally released in the Vansant Parcel between 2012 and 2014.
According to Tom Hampton, the DWR Lands and Access Manager for Region 3, a federal program grant aimed at expanding public access to wild areas provided DWR with funds.
“That allows us to compensate landowners who are willing to allow the public to access private land for wildlife-related recreation,” Hampton said.
According to Hampton and Kreps, the grant process has taken about three years and involved other agencies like the Southwest Virginia Sportsmen.
“The grant also provides funding for access infrastructure like gates and signs, roadwork, simple parking lots and that sort of thing,” Hampton said. “And the grant also provides money for wildlife habitat enhancement.”
The lands will be patrolled by Conservation Police Officers to make sure no one abuses or misuses the parcels. The DWR states no special fees or permits are needed to access the areas by foot or street-legal vehicles.
“Within these three parcels, we basically have the opportunity to do anything you would like to do in the outdoors,” Hampton said.