CRLC Opens Varina LandLab Conservation Area for Public Access

Henrico, VA – Celebrating Great Outdoors Month, and National Trails Day on Saturday June 3rd, 2023, Capital Region Land Conservancy (CRLC) has officially dedicated the Varina LandLab at 9200 Deep Bottom Road in Henrico County with 353 acres of land and more than 4 miles of trails available for the public to enjoy. Since 2017, the property has been protected in perpetuity by conservation easements co-held by Capital Region Land Conservancy and Henricopolis Soil & Water Conservation District. The land was gifted to CRLC in 2021 to support public access to the outdoors and environmental education opportunities.

Varina LandLab
VCU Ecology students visiting Varina LandLab

The Varina LandLab is located in eastern Henrico County and is adjacent to Deep Bottom Park and fronts the James River, Four Mile Creek, and Roundabout Creek. It is dubbed a “LandLab” for its purpose as an outdoor classroom for local K-12 students, University classes, and curious minds of all ages to explore local biodiversity of the Varina area, to learn about sustainable land stewardship, and understand the importance of land conservation.  With opportunities for research in biology, sustainability, history, geography, and landscape design, the LandLab is a great site for place-based learning and academic inquiry. As an example, recent work by Virginia Commonwealth University’s biology students includes field investigation of migratory birds within the Lower James River Important Bird Area.

At the Varina LandLab, CRLC encourages the public to serve as citizen scientists by recording their observations through apps such as eBird and iNaturalist. Several hundred different species have been identified on the property, including a hundred different birds making it a great destination for bird watching (or listening).

The LandLab is also space to explore natural ecosystems found in Eastern Henrico and presents to the public land management practices and ecological restoration techniques.  Since taking ownership of the property in 2021, CRLC and its many partners have planted over 1,000 trees to expand the riparian buffer and restored 500 feet of a degraded and eroding drainage area. We have conducted prescribed burns on more than 40 acres of predominantly grassland, conducted alternative treatments to remove invasive species, and have collected seed from a diversity of the native plants found at the site.

By sustainably collecting seeds from native plants at the Varina LandLab that are not commercially available, CRLC has also kick-started a new economic opportunity through a partnership with the Clifton Institute and Virginia State University. Plants grown from these wild collected seeds are being grown by VSU to be distributed to farmers as a new crop from which to harvest seeds to be used in wildlife restoration efforts and pollinator initiatives.

Aerial view of Varina LandLab – Photo by Max Schlickenmeyer

The long-term vision for the property, dictated through CRLC’s land management plan, includes maintaining nearly 100 acres of native grassland habitats. CRLC is already working to establishing another 100 acres of pine savannah as an important wildlife habitat that has been largely lost from Virginia’s landscapes. The plan also calls for protecting important historic resources including a cemetery, Civil war earthworks, and sensitive archeological sites.

The property bears witness to significant history that visitors to the Varina LandLab will be able to see. Indigenous people at the high ground along Four Mile Creek since 2,000 BCE until the establishment of the English settlement at Henricus. At the bluffs overlooking the James River, an important pontoon bridge crossing was used by more than 28,000 Union troops during the Civil War and battles of First Deep Bottom, Second Deep Bottom, and New Market Heights.

Varina LandLab Trail MapVarina LandLab has three entrances with the main entrance (Entrance #3) located at 9200 Deep Bottom Road, Richmond, VA 23231. Limited parking is available at each entrance (Entrances 1, 2, and 3). The property is open daily from sunrise to sunset.

CRLC asks users to please respect the property and observe the following rules and restrictions. No trespassing after dark. Leave No Trace. Take only pictures. Carry out all trash. Keep Pets on Leash. Clean up after your pet and take waste with you. Use Open Trails Only. Please stay on designated trails and obey closures. Be Safe / Be Sensible. Bring water. Wear sunscreen. Check for ticks. Watch your Step. Uneven terrain can be a hazard. CRLC prohibits the following activities on the property: Unleashed Dogs, Fires, Smoking, or fireworks, Camping or Overnight Parking, ATVs & Other Off-Road Vehicles, Mountain Biking & Horseback Riding, Hunting, Trapping, and Fishing, Alcoholic Beverages, Feeding Wildlife, Removal or Destruction of Plants, Animals, Minerals, & Artifacts.

Please visit the Varina LandLab website for additional details such trail map, naturalist guide, and history.

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About Capital Region Land Conservancy (CRLC):  Incorporated in March 2005 as a non-profit 501(c)(3) organization, CRLC seeks to conserve and protect the natural and historic land and water resources of Virginia’s Capital Region for the benefit of current and future generations. Visit www.capitalregionland.org  to learn more about CRLC’s land conservation programs.

For more information: Contact Parker C. Agelasto, Executive Director at parker@capitalregionland.org and 202-302-0153