Fones Cliffs is one of those treasured spots in the Chesapeake watershed barely touched
by time. The tall white and amber cliffs along
the Rappahannock River in Virginia’s
Northern Neck are home to one of the highest concentrations of bald eagles on the East.
Thick green forest tops the cliffs and blankets
ravines, while waterfowl flock on the river
below. In surrounding wetlands, grasses and
vibrant yellow flowers rustle in the breeze. It’s
easy to imagine that the site has changed little since 1608, when members of the
Rappahannock Tribe ambushed Captain
John Smith from atop the very same cliffs.
But this amazingly beautiful and historic
landmark is under threat. A proposal would
turn much of Fones Cliffs into an enormous
development of hundreds of homes and a
golf course sprawling over nearly 1,000 acres
in rural Richmond County. Crucial habitat
for eagles and other wildlife would be
destroyed. Erosion and polluted runoff into
the Rappahannock would increase. Fones
Cliffs as we know it would be lost forever.
In October, an overflow crowd packed a public hearing where local residents, conservationists, and scientists overwhelmingly spoke
out against the project. CBF experts testified
about the environmental damage the development would cause and delivered a petition
to save Fones Cliffs signed by more than
7,800 advocates. CBF joined those opposed
to the development and rallied supporters to
help defend this untouched area. We used
social media to send out a petition and to
push photos and a helicopter-view video of
the site. CBF kept members informed
through our website, magazine, and a pod-
cast. Despite all this, in November the
County’s Board of Supervisors approved the
developer’s request to rezone the property—
a key decision that moves the project to the
next approval phase.
But the fight to save Fones Cliffs is far from
over. For many Northern Neck residents,
Fones Cliffs is part of the area’s heritage.
They see it as an unparalleled natural
resource that should be conserved.
The development’s supposed benefits would
come at the expense of the qualities that
make the region attractive in the first place,
five prominent local residents wrote recently
in an open letter to county officials. “Our
isolation has left us with priceless commodities that in this world are in short supply.
They include nature’s beauty, abundant
wildlife, clean tidal waters, and a self-reliant
population that values these gifts and knows
when its interests are threatened,” they state.
For 20 years, Wayne Fisher has made a liv-
ing as a waterman, often working pound
nets in the productive waters off Fones
Cliffs. He fears the project would threaten
the Rappahannock’s rich fishery. “I certainly
depend on this river full time. It’s how I
make a living, it’s how I support my family,
and it’s how I pay my bills,” he says. “This
development would affect my livelihood,
causing more runoff, more erosion, and
more boat traffic.”
It doesn’t have to end this way. Thoughtful
stewardship can preserve Fones Cliffs’
unparalleled natural value and history for
residents and visitors alike. CBF will con-
tinue to oppose this development, and will
examine all appropriate actions for protect-
ing this cherished site.
u For more information, visit cbf.org/fonescliffs.
It doesn’t have to end this way. Thoughtful stewardship
can preserve Fones Cliffs’ unparalleled natural value and history
for residents and visitors alike. “ ”
Kenny Fletcher—CBF’s Virginia
is looking forward to his next
eagle-watching trip on the
The thick green forest sitting atop Fones Cliffs
provides habitat for waterfowl and
nesting bald eagles. The picture shows a
portion of Fones Cliffs that is owned by the
Diatomite Corporation of America.
CBF Keeps Up Fight to Save Fones Cliffs
By Kenny Fletcher