Virginia’s Largest Landowner Controls a Ridiculous 4.18 Million Acres

© bobistraveling / CC BY 2.0

Written by Katie Melynn Wood

Published: February 11, 2024

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The largest landowner in the state of Virginia by far is the Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation. This state organization owns a whopping 4.18 million acres within the state. This includes public lands for residents and visitors to use and enjoy as well as managed land for conservation and wildlife.

Their mission focus is to “conserve Virginia’s natural and recreational resources.” They do this through six focus areas: natural heritage, planning and recreation resources, soil and water, state parks, dam safety and floodplain management, and administration. Many of the efforts of the Department work to conserve the millions of acres that they manage. Keep reading to learn more about Virginia’s largest landowner.

History of the Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation

Virginia’s First Landing State Park was created in 1926 with the formation of the Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation.

©Virginia State Parks staff / CC BY 2.0 – Original / License

The Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation was founded in 1926. It falls under the Secretary of Natural and Historic Resources. Four other departments focused on the preservation and conservation of natural resources and history also work together. However, none come close to the amount of land resources owned and managed. The federal government also owns a lot of land in Virginia, including national parks, national monuments, and national forests. But they still fall short compared to the more than 4 million acres owned by the Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation.

The Chesapeake Bay, a major fixture in the natural landscape of Virginia’s ecosystem, is critical to the conservation of natural resources in the state. A lot of the work done by the Department of Conservation and Recreation centers on cleaning and maintaining the bay, as well as the water that flows into it.

State Parks in Virginia

Kayaks beached on Fossil Island, Westmoreland State Park, Virginia.

You can kayak to Fossil Island in Westmoreland State Park, Virginia.

©James Stuart Griffith/

One of the biggest efforts that gets the most attention and use by the public is the state park system. The creation of Virginia’s state parks began when the department was founded and continued steadily. Today, there are 42 state parks in Virginia. Ensuring “access to the outdoors” is one of the Department’s responsibilities. This is done through trail and facilities maintenance, education and outreach, as well as land management.

The Department of Conservation and Recreation isn’t just about parks, however. 63 natural areas fall under the department’s umbrella. While these aren’t open to the public in the same way, they are just as carefully monitored and managed. Part of the department’s job is to ensure the conservation of natural resources. This includes protecting habitats for wildlife. In some cases, this is done by restricting access to natural areas. Some of the land managed includes lakes, rivers, and streams. The department even oversees some swimming pools, swimming beaches, campgrounds, and yurts available for rent.

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About the Author

Katie is a freelance writer and teaching artist specializing in home, lifestyle, and family topics. Her work has appeared in At Ease Magazine, PEOPLE, and The Spruce, among others. When she is not writing, Katie teaches creative writing with the Apex Arts Magnet Program in Anne Arundel County, Maryland. You can follow Katie @katiemelynnwriter.

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