UVA Wise and The Nature Conservancy Announce 2024 Cumberland Forest Community Fund Award Recipients

2024 award recipients of the Cumberland Forest Community Fund with their checks
The 2024 Cumberland Forest Community Fund awardees receive a total of $100,000 to support nature-based economic and community development projects in Southwest Virginia.
Photo by SWVA Photography

The University of Virginia’s College at Wise (UVA Wise), The Nature Conservancy (TNC), the Cumberland Forest Limited Partnership, and the Anne and Gene Worrell Foundation are delighted to announce the 2024 award recipients of the Cumberland Forest Community Fund (CFCF). This competitive local grant program, now in its third year, is designed to support nature-based economic and community development projects in seven Southwestern Virginia counties: Buchanan, Dickenson, Lee, Russell, Scott, Tazewell and Wise, as well as the City of Norton. 

The Towns of Cleveland, Dungannon, Honaker, and Richlands, along with Appalachian Sustainable Development, Breaks Interstate Park, Friends of the Buchanan County Library, and Mountain Kids Inc., have been awarded a total of $100,000 for projects, including a community garden expansion, an aquatic research station and improvements to a local recreation area.

“We are inspired by this year’s recipients,” said Nick Proctor, Community Outreach Manager with TNC. “The awarded organizations are leading the way to create opportunities that benefit community, nature, and economy in Southwest Virginia. We’re excited to support each recipient and be a part of local success stories.”

The CFCF provides financial support for local projects that contribute to economic diversification, expanded community capacity, and benefits to nature within the seven counties. Established in 2022, the CFCF has already provided $240,000 in grants for 20 community-based projects throughout Southwest Virginia. Funding and other support for the latest round of grants is provided by the Cumberland Forest Limited Partnership, The Nature Conservancy, and the Anne and Gene Worrell Foundation. UVA Wise serves as the program administrator. 

“The Cumberland Forest Community Fund continues to receive diverse and impactful project proposals from the region. We look forward to continuing our support of the implementation of these incredible projects,” said Shannon Blevins, Vice Chancellor, Government Relations and Strategic Initiatives at UVA Wise.

"The CFCF embodies the Foundation's mission of supporting initiatives that cultivate resilient communities and ecosystems for Southwest Virginia,” says Holly Hatcher, President and CEO of the Anne and Gene Worrell Foundation. “We are thrilled to be part of this collaborative effort and congratulate all of the award winners."

Past awarded projects have included new river access points, outdoor classrooms, trail development and eco-tourism initiatives. One of this year’s award recipients, Appalachian Sustainable Development, will leverage grant funds to install an irrigation system in a community garden.

“On behalf of Appalachian Sustainable Development (ASD), the Tazewell community, and the Growing Together Community Garden, I would like to thank the Cumberland Forest Community Foundation (CFCF) for awarding these funds to our project,” said David Gabbert, Groundwork (Tazewell) Garden Manager with ASD. “With the funds generously awarded from the CFCF, ASD plans to install a waterline to the garden, which would allow the community to have access to water right from the garden. Having the waterline installed in the garden will allow a greater number of people from the community to have access to the community garden.”

The 2024-2025 round of funding for the CFCF launched in March 2024 and projects were selected through a competitive process that solicited proposals from non-profits and communities. More information on this year’s CFCF award recipients can be found below and at www.oxbowcenter.com/communityfund

2024 CFCF Projects:

Town of Cleveland secured funding for recreation improvements at Tank Hollow Falls. 

The Town of Cleveland will make several public access site improvements at the Cleveland Barrens Natural Area Preserve trailhead, to include bringing the handicapped parking space into current ADA specifications, expanding parking, adding exclusion fencing, and improving directional signage from town. 

Town of Dungannon secured funding to install an HVAC system for the Clinch River Research and Learning Center. 

The Town of Dungannon received a grant from the Virginia Outdoors Foundation to purchase property next to the public boat landing of the Clinch River and to replace an abandoned building with a post and steel structure to serve as the River Research and Learning Center. This is the first aquatic research center established on the Clinch River, and it is expected to be heavily used by the public schools and colleges to study the mussels and other aquatic life in the Clinch and to monitor water quality. The CFCF provides funding to install the HVAC system. 

Town of Honaker secured funding to expand native redbud tree population. 

The native redbud tree is a hallmark community brand and identity for the Town of Honaker. The project will purchase and install locally sourced redbud trees that contribute to downtown revitalization efforts and enhance marketing opportunities for the town. 

Town of Richlands secured funding for renovations at the Critterville playground. 

The Town of Richlands’ Critterville playground area at Williams Field Park was originally constructed through a community building process in 1997. Over the past 25 years, the playground has become a fixture within the community and a regional asset where generations of area youth have played and grown. Strategic renovations will be made to make the playground safer and to expand available playground equipment. 

Appalachian Sustainable Development secured funding to install irrigation at the Growing Together Community Garden.

Appalachian Sustainable Development’s (ASD) mission is to grow a stronger Appalachia through agriculture. The Growing Together Community Garden is a space for the community of Tazewell to learn together, share together, and grow together. Funding irrigation infrastructure for this garden will improve accessibility for visitors and gardeners, increasing capacity, production, and functionality.

Breaks Interstate Park secured funding for community engagement, climbing ethics, and safe practice outreach related to rock climbing initiatives. 

Due to the high quantity of beautiful sandstone cliffs hiding above the river, Breaks has seen a substantial amount of climbing route development over the past ten years. With high quality climbing in a very accessible state park, Breaks has seen an influx of individuals who travel to the park for the sake of enjoying the climbing it has to offer. The project will foster more community engagement, climbing ethics, and safe practices for those practicing climbing in the area.

Friends of the Buchanan County Library secured funding for its ‘Composting for a Better Future’ community education series. 

Composting for a Better Future will introduce the composting and vermicomposting to the Buchanan community. This program is an extension of an established homesteading curriculum and where library patrons will have new access to educational resources and the unique ability to check out composting equipment. The project will also create new raised garden beds and provide garden starting equipment that will be used to demonstrate various techniques for beginner gardeners. 

Mountain Kids Inc. secured funding to support summer camp series.

Mountain Kids Inc. offers five summer camps each year. These camps include a camp highlighting world culture, high adventures camp, nature and survival skills, a camp focused on creative creatures and animals as well as multiple art opportunities. Support by the CFCF will be used to support staff wages, as well as to purchase supplies that can be reused each year.