New Exhibit Creatively Celebrates Virginia Coast Reserve Milestones

Speckled trout, grass shrimp, and other species swim through an eelgrass meadow in this three-dimensional artwork made out of repurposed materials by Miriam Riggs, on display at the Barrier Islands Center’s exhibit celebrating the 50th anniversary of The Nature Conservancy’s Volgenau Virginia Coast Reserve. Photo by Stefanie Jackson.

By Stefanie Jackson – The Barrier Islands Center in Machipongo opened a new exhibit Friday, Feb. 4, celebrating The Nature Conservancy’s 50th anniversary of its conservation efforts at the Volgenau Virginia Coast Reserve (VVCR), established as the Virginia Coast Reserve in 1970.

The coastal reserve officially reached the 50-year mark in 2020, at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, but now the Barrier Islands Center (BIC) invites the community to see its VVCR exhibit in person, “celebrating and reflecting on the past five decades and elevating our programs and partnerships into the future,” according to a January press release.

The multimedia exhibit features art and designs by local artists Miriam Riggs and Emily Smith, as well as photography, a Virginia Coast Reserve timeline, and more.

Moments in The Nature Conservancy’s and Virginia Coast Reserve’s history highlighted in the exhibit include:

  • The Nature Conservancy acquired its first barrier islands in 1970: Hog Island, Smith Island, Myrtle Island, Godwin Island, and Ship Shoal Island. Today, 14 undeveloped barrier and marsh islands are protected.
  • The Brownsville Farm, near Nassawadox, was purchased and renamed the Brownsville Preserve, which became VVCR headquarters, in 1974.
  • The National Science Foundation funded the Virginia Coast Reserve Long Term Ecological Research program in 1987, which is conducted in the “living laboratory” of TNC’s pristine coastal bays and barrier islands. The research program continues, led by the University of Virginia at the Anheuser-Busch Coastal Research Center in Oyster, focusing on how coastal systems respond to environmental conditions such as climate change and sea-level rise.
  • The Virginia Eastern Shore Land Trust was established in 2003 with the goal of preserving 14,000 acres by cooperating with private landowners to create conservation easements on their properties.
  • In 2009, The College of William & Mary’s Center for Conservation Biology held its first Whimbrel Watch migratory bird count, and TNC and the Virginia Institute of Marine Science began bay scallop restoration work in seaside eelgrass meadows.
  • The Virginia Eastern Shore Coastal Resilience Tool was released to the public online in 2014.
  • The VVCR Outreach & Education program was created in 2015, providing field experiences at the Brownsville Preserve and on the barrier islands for Accomack and Northampton County students in grades 5, 7, and 10.

To learn more about The Nature Conservancy and the Volgenau Virginia Coast Reserve, visit the new winter exhibit at the Barrier Islands Center, open Tuesday through Saturday, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.

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