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Reclaimed Land on the Mattaponi

A body of water sits still under a hazy sky. The grass surrounding the water is brown and golden, there are mud tracks visible from cars driving past that area.
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VPM News Focal Point
An Indigenous tribe used a federal grant to reclaim 855 acres.

Late last year the Upper Mattaponi bought 855 acres of riverfront land from a gravel mine company. The tribe plans to use the land for environmental conservation and ecotourism.


FRANK ADAMS (CHIEF, UPPER MATTAPONI INDIAN TRIBE): My name is Frank Adams. I'm Chief of the Upper Mattaponi Tribe. This is approximately 855 acres of reclaimed soil that used to be a sand and gravel mining operation. And when this property came onto the market, came up for sale, we decided that we could buy this property if we could write a conservation grant. So, we wrote a federal grant and was successful about six, nine months later. So, we had a contract signed, and we used the grant funding to pay for the property, slightly more than $3 million.

Because it is a property that's in our cultural living area. This is where we used to spend all of our time. But we would like to, since we do have some river frontage and some lake frontage, we would like to establish a fish hatchery on this property to help generate and improve the habitat of the shad and blueback herring that migrate up the river every year, along with mussels and other things that clean the water and whatnot.

Took us 20 years to get federally recognized after we got a bill sponsored in the Congress. But being federally recognized opens up so many more doors, so many more opportunities for funding to purchase properties like this and/or just build our government, hire staff. Being federally recognized has opened many doors for us.

It's a chore to manage 855 acres with the rains and the snowstorms and ice storms that occur occasionally around here. So, we have a crew, we have a maintenance crew, a grounds management crew that will come up and inspect the property to make sure the trees hadn't blown down or the roads haven't washed out or been compromised by heavy rains and whatnot. And as global warming and climate change comes, storms are getting bigger and bigger. So it is work for us. We got our due diligence to do to keep this property open and available to our tribal citizens to be able to enjoy.

During the mining process, they dug pits, and the pits filled up with water eventually, after they got a certain depth, and when we purchased it, they were in the process of draining all these ponds. There's three ponds still on this property, but we saw the value in the water and the wetlands for nature. So we asked them, part of the contract was to leave these ponds unfilled and uncovered. Eventually we'll start some ecotourism for our tribal citizens and/or the public, so they can enjoy this magnificent piece of property.

It's mostly a pine forest. But we would love to plant some Indigenous trees on this property. Trees that the natives used hundreds and hundreds of years ago to survive with.

This property is right on the banks of the upper reaches of the Mattaponi River. We have over a mile river frontage on this. It's a hike to go down to the river, but the river is where life is for Native Americans.


Billy Shields is a multimedia journalist with VPM News Focal Point.
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