All About Virginia's State Forests

Origins and Significance

The State Forest System had its beginning in 1919 when Mr. Emmett D. Gallion bequeathed 588 acres in Prince Edward County, near Farmville, to the Commonwealth of Virginia. Mr. Gallion was living in Washington, D. C., and wanted to have his property preserved as a unit and serve to advance the cause of forestry in the southern Piedmont of Virginia.

Additional land was not acquired until the mid-1930's, when the federal government began acquiring land under the Bankhead-Jones Farm Tenant Act. These lands now comprise the Appomattox-Buckingham State Forest, the Cumberland State Forest, and the Prince Edward-Gallion State Forest.

In 1939, the federal government leased land they had acquired under the authorization of Title 3, Bankhead-Jones Farm Tenant Act, to the Commonwealth of Virginia. The original lease was for 99 years. In May 1954 the federal government deeded the forestland to the Commonwealth of Virginia.

Evidence of past inhabitants on the forests is visible. When this land was originally acquired much of it was open farmland. The current vegetation reveals the pattern of past land use. Old, eroded fields now support trees and still reveal the ridges and furrows of corn or tobacco rows. Scattered throughout the forests are standing chimneys and crumbling foundations - the remnants of the old farm homesteads. Cemeteries are scattered throughout and vary from simple depressions in the ground to well-maintained family cemeteries one of which is a historic landmark.

The State Forests are not only rich in history but provide an area for the following activities to take place.

The forests are rich with history. The Charles Irving Thornton tombstone on the Cumberland State Forest is on the National Register of Historical Places and the Virginia Landmarks Register. The Charles Irving Thornton marble headstone is unique in that its inscription was written by Charles Dickens.

On the Cumberland State Forest, an appropriate marker is located on the site of Jesse Thomas' homestead. Colonel Jesse Thomas rode his famous horse "Fearnaught" through the night to warn Baron Von Steuben that Cornwallis was coming, thus saving Von Steuben with his 800 men and the Continental Army's sole remaining supplies in Virginia.

Demonstration and Education

The State Forests serve as a demonstration site for "best practices" in forestry. These practices cover all forest activities from tree planting to harvesting, as well as environmental considerations for water quality, aesthetics and wildlife. These practices incorporate a multiple use management plan which focuses on the advantages and benefits of managing the total resource. In addition, the Forests provide a valuable area for research projects by college or university students, tours and demonstrations, and other educational activities.


The State Forests serve as areas for applied research projects to determine the best forest practices for private landowners, industry and the State Forests. The State Forests have research projects dating back to the 1950's that are protected and continue to provide important information to the forest community.

The Department of Forestry's Applied Forest Research Branch uses the State Forests to test new developments prior to their introduction to the forest industry and the private landowner.

The State Forests have 154 acres of seed orchards that supply genetically improved seed for growing loblolly pine, white pine and Virginia pine seedlings for Virginia's landowner. The research program has allowed the VDOF to produce 100% genetically improved seedlings for reforestation projects. These genetically improved seedlings are evaluated during their growth to identify the best parent trees for future seed production. Ongoing research is conducted to identify the best trees to establish a second generation seed orchard.

Wildlife Management

The large contiguous acreages of State Forests and the habitat diversity created by forest management provide for a diverse population of wildlife species. The abundance of early to late successional forest types is well distributed in the forest.

The management of wildlife habitat on State Forests will focus on the following techniques:

  • Maintain streamside management zones (SMZ) on all perennial and intermittent streams. These SMZs provide for travel corridors, old growth timber types, cavity trees, as well as providing a continuous source of clean water.
  • Maintain game food plots by seeding, mowing, or burning.
  • Identify and maintain trees containing cavities suitable for wildlife and maintain at least one, when present, per two acres of forestland.
  • Maintain balanced distribution of timber types and age classes across the forest.
  • Maintain and protect old house sites, springs, seeps, natural areas, and reserve strips along roads.
  • Work cooperatively with the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries (DGIF) as necessary.

Timber Management

The three large State Forests are managed on a sustained yield program. Eighty-six percent of the land is classified as commercial timberland. Other areas are designated as non-commercial forestland, such as buffer strips along creeks and rivers and aesthetic strips along all major highways. This non-commercial forestland comprises approximately eleven percent of the total area.

The management of the timber resources is recorded in the plans prepared for each forest. These plans are revised every ten years and are based on a new resource inventory. They are very comprehensive and cover not only timber management but total multiple use management.

A diversity of timber types will be maintained on the forest in approximately the same ratio as when the forest was first acquired. This diversity will continue to enhance the total use of the forest. Loblolly pine is the primary species planted with smaller quantities of shortleaf and white pine to add to the diversity of species and to the benefit of wildlife.


The State Forests provide exceptional recreational opportunities. All of the forests in their beauty and splendor are available free to passive recreational activities throughout the year. There are hundreds of miles of forest trails available for non-motorized use such as hiking, cross-country skiing or observing nature. Cable-suspended footbridges offer unique experiences crossing the Willis River on the Cumberland State Forest. Lakes provide opportunities for fishing, and rivers located within the forest provide fishing and canoeing opportunities. There are shelters within the forest that offer picnicking while enjoying the beauty of nature.

Biking, canoeing, hiking, horseback riding and hunting are available on many of the state forests. A State Forest Use Permit is required for some activities, in addition to appropriate licenses.

Hunting continues to be one of the major recreational uses of the forests during the late fall or early winter. You can learn more about hunting on the state forests.

Special Management Areas

Within the boundaries of the three large State Forests, special use areas are established. There are ten natural areas that range in size from 16 to 70 acres. These natural areas demonstrate the major timber types found in Virginia's forests. With few exceptions, these natural areas are mature stands. They are intended to be a laboratory in studying ecology, botany, dendrology, biology and other plant and animal sciences.