Upper Mattaponi Tribe Chief W. Frank Adams walks a portion of the 866 acres his tribe is acquiring in Virginia with the help of federal and state programs, representing a return to the river that shares the tribe’s name. Photo courtesy Upper Mattaponi Indian Tribe.

Mattaponi Reclaim Ancestral Lands

The Upper Mattaponi Indian Tribe is reclaiming 866 acres of ancestral lands along the Mattaponi River in Virginia—with the help of $3 million in federal funds also aimed at improving climate resiliency in coastal areas.

The $3 million from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration was made available through the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law’s “climate ready coasts” initiative. The property, portions of which were formerly mined for sand and gravel, contains a diverse mix of habitats along 11,000 feet of waterfront on the winding Mattaponi River, a tributary to the York River in King William County.

An additional $630,000 for the land acquisition comes from a mix of state and local partners, including the Virginia Land Conservation Foundation, the Trust for Public Land, the previous landowner and the Mattaponi Tribe.

“The Upper Mattaponi people will use this property to help in protecting the integrity of the river, which has always been the homeland of the Upper Mattaponi Tribe,” said the tribe’s leader, Chief W. Frank Adams. “With these efforts we hope to improve water quality, accessibility, and preserve threatened cultural sites.”

The property’s 866 acres, about 40 miles northeast of Richmond, will be added to the 3,385 acres already conserved along the Mattaponi River basin corridor, said Laura McKay, manager of the Virginia Coastal Zone Management Program.

The tribe’s plans for the property include revegetating mining areas with native plants and restoring streams on the property. The tribe is also exploring the idea of creating a fish and mussel hatchery to restore “culturally significant species” to the area and create new economic opportunities. Portions of the property near Beulahville are expected eventually to be open to the public as well.

This acquisition is a first of its kind for the Mattaponi Tribe, representing a return to the river that shares its name and ancestral culture. In 2022, federal and state partners worked with the Rappahannock Tribe to return 465 acres of ancestral land along the Rappahannock River as well.