Cumberland Forest Community Fund

Supporting nature-based economic and community development in the Appalachian regions of Southwest Virginia, Tennessee and Kentucky.

White mist shrouds the peaks of mountain ridges and fills the deep valleys.
Appalachians Clouds Aerial view of early morning clouds shrouding Central Appalachian mountain tops in southwest Virginia. May 2019. © Cameron Davidson

The Appalachians were born from a violent upheaval of rock spanning roughly 2,000 miles from present-day Alabama to Canada. For more than 400 million years, natural forces have sculpted this ancient chain.

Today at least 22 million people call the region home, and millions more rely on its natural abundance for their health, recreation and livelihoods.

Cumberland Forest Community Fund

Program Guidelines and Application

In July 2021, a first round of grants were awarded through the Cumberland Forest Community Fund, a local grant program aimed at supporting nature-based economic and community development in Southwest Virginia, Tennessee and Kentucky. 

The grant program continues today, with awarded projects demonstrating the Fund's triple bottom line of desired outcomes: enhancing local economic development, building community capacity and improving environmental quality within the program area.

Supporting Local Ventures

Successful grant awardees are implementing exciting projects that support local jobs, outdoor recreation and nature-based economic development and green infrastrucure investment, and improve land, water and air quality within the program area.

The Cumberland Forest Limited Partnership provides funding for the grants, and in 2024, the Anne and Gene Worrell Foundation also contributed funding. The Nature Conservancy is pleased to be partnering with UVA Wise for the management of its projects in Virginia and with the Clinch-Powell Resource Conservation and Development Council for the management of its projects in Tennessee.

Cumberland Forest Community Fund (7:00) "We've got to make a difference." Grant recipients share the positive economic, community and environmental impacts that the Cumberland Forest Community Fund will help support across the southwest Virginia region.


Projects selected in Virginia span seven counties—Wise, Russell, Tazewell, Dickenson, Buchanan, Lee, Scott—and City of Norton. Projects were selected through a competitive process that solicited proposals from businesses, non-profits and communities.

A group of people people pose together outdoors in a grassy era backed by tall trees. Many of the people hold aloft large, novelty checks given out during a grant award ceremony.
Celebrating Community Cumberland Forest Community Fund grant recipients celebrate the power of community during the awards ceremony in June 2024. © SWVA Photography

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. 

A group of people people pose together outdoors in a grassy era backed by tall trees. Many of the people hold aloft large, novelty checks given out during a grant award ceremony.
Celebrating Community Cumberland Forest Community Fund grant recipients celebrate the power of community during an event in St. Paul, VA. July 2023. © TNC

2023 Virginia Grantees

In 2023, the second round of grants from the Cumberland Forest Community Fund provided funding for 10 nature-based community projects in Southwest Virginia.

  • Friends of Southwest Virginia secured $19,000 for the Tyler Flanary pump track, providing an opportunity to connect enthusiasts to the world-class mountain biking resources of the region, as well as produce events in the town of Big Stone Gap.
  • Appalachian Voices secured $15,000 for the Solar Workgroup of Southwest Virginia to support solar deployment and rooftop installation for one high-impact community anchor institution in the region. 
  • The Town of Cleveland secured $5,000 for the Riverbend Campground’s Nurturing Nature project, planting a variety of native trees and shrubs to create a colorful and vibrant landscape provides ample shade and economic benefit to the community.
  • Clinch River Valley Initiative (CRVI) secured $11,500 for marketing initiatives to support the promotion of outdoor recreation assets along the Clinch River and help expand community capacity building around tourism. 
  • The Town of Wise secured $15,000 for the Bear Creek Reservoir to expand the trails at Bear Creek and continue promoting an active lifestyle through outdoor recreation opportunities.
  • The Town of Lebanon secured $15,000 for the Lebanon Park’s playground restoration to provide upgrades to the local parks and provide more outdoor recreation opportunities, further expanding the economic impact of the town’s Downtown Revitalization project.
  • The Town of Pennington Gap secured $12,000 for the outdoor classroom expansion, including educational signage, accessibility adjustments, native plants and pollinator gardens, educational stations for weather and wildlife, and compost bins.
  • Breaks Interstate Park secured $30,000 for their climbing expansion project, providing support to the improvement of existing trails and construction of new trails to foster additional climbing access. 
  • SWVA Sportsmen secured $15,000 for the wildlife habitat protection project to create additional wildlife viewing opportunities in Southwest Virginia, expand their habitat restoration efforts and provide additional wildlife food plots for elk in Buchanan County.
  • The Town of St. Paul secured $2,500 for the Wetlands Estonoa bridge and walking trail, providing greater access to the wetlands.
A large group of people pose together in front of a rock wall. They hold loppers and other hand tools for clearing brush and small vegetation.
Community Connections The Cumberland Forest Community Fund supports projects that continue to develop and conserve the economic, cultural and environmental landscape of Southwest Virginia. © TNC

2022 Virginia Grantees

In 2022, the first round of grants from the Cumberland Forest Community Fund provided funding for 10 nature-based community projects in Southwest Virginia.

  • Appalshop secured $9,850 for their Pound River Access project to establish parking areas, improve pedestiran access and create wayfinding signage and an informational kiosk to help educate users about the ecological and historical value of the river.
  • The Breaks Interstate Park secured $15,000 for their Climbing Development project in response to overwhelming demand expressed during the public comment section of their site master plan. 
  • The Central Appalachia Climbers Coalition secured $6,850 for their Ben’s Branch Access project to install a new parking area, build and improve the access trail and install a new trailhead kiosk for Ben’s Branch, the new climbing area owned by the Town of Appalachia. 
  • The Friends of SWVA secured a capacity building grant in the amount of $11,700 for their Clinch River Valley Initiative (CRVI). 
  • OH Rentals LLC secured $5,600 for their OH Stay and Ride project to provide lodging, bike and kayak rentals, repair services and shuttles so that visitors can spend time enjoying the over 100 miles of mountain trails in Wise County. 
  • The SWVA Sportsmen secured a grant for $13,000 for their Wildlife Habitat project to expand wildlife viewing opportunities in Buchanan County, increasing tourism and attracting visitors to the region. 
  • The Town of Appalachia secured $10,000 for their Washington Rock Recreation Area project aimed at developing an outdoor recreation, tourism and community-use facility.
  • The Town of Haysi secured $13,500 for their Haysi Riverfront Trail project to construct a boardwalk and trail for pedestrian and electric bike traffic overlooking the Russell Fork River. 
  • The Town of St. Paul secured $4,500 for their Wetlands Estonoa project for the creation of a new span bridge overlooking the wetlands.
  • The Virginia Cooperative Extension of Lee County secured $10,000 for their Outdoor Classroom for Pennington Gap Greenway project to establish an outdoor classroom, hands-on education station and signage for educating both K–12 students and the general public.


Projects selected in Tennessee span five counties—Claiborne, Campbell, Union, Hancock and Grainger. The partners selected projects through a competitive process that solicited proposals from businesses, non-profits and communities. 

Riverside Rentals secured $7,500 for a beautification project that will plant native vegetation to protect against erosion and make improvements that include improved river access and the creation of a walking trail.

Big Ridge State Park secured $19,049 for a permanent, centralized outdoor water station that is accessible and weatherproof for use by hikers and others visiting the park.

The Wellbeing Foundation secured $10,000 for a pollinator project that involves planting a large field to attract and encourage pollinators, and purchasing equipment to maintain pollinator habitats, both new and already planted, for years to come.

Servolution Health Services secured $14,513 for a People Achieving Total Health (PATH) program that will include a multipurpose outdoor space to be used for physical wellness, community events, as an outdoor classroom and as a meeting space for 4H clubs and others.

Campbell County Chamber of Commerce secured $25,000 to rebuild the popular Hatfield Knob elk viewing tower with steel and ADA compliant access.

Cumberland Forest Project Benefits Communities The Nature Conservancy's Cumberland Forest Project Community Fund invests in solar installations in Kentucky and outdoor recreation businesses in Tennessee. Learn how local communities are benefiting from a 253,000-acre conservation project. Filmed by Wilkinson Visual.


The Mountain Association secured $77,990 for a rooftop solar installation on the Community Center in Middlesboro, KY, located in the heart of the Cumberland Forest Project's Ataya property. TNC's Kentucky chapter has partnered with Mountain Association to evaluate and prioritize community solar installation projects that will deliver long-term cost savings for local governments and community non-profits while also reducing carbon emissions and providing an outreach opportunity within Kentucky about the benefits and feasibility of clean energy. The Mountain Association serves Eastern Kentucky by investing in the people and places to advance the transition to a new economy that is more diverse, sustainable, equitable and resilient. 

About the Cumberland Forest Limited Partnership

The Cumberland Forest Limited Partnership, managed by The Nature Conservancy, owns more than 250,000 acres in the coalfields of Virginia, Kentucky, and Tennessee. Cumberland Forest utilizes an impact investment approach to manage these lands for sustainable forestry, climate resiliency, renewable energy, recreational uses and economic opportunities for people and communities.