Last updated 06-05-16

Who We Are



To promote education and economic development through place-based programs related to the natural and cultural heritage of the Blue Ridge in Southwestern Virginia’s Bi-County area of Floyd and Patrick Counties.

In 2005 a Steering Committee formed to brainstorm a jointly developed, Patrick County/Floyd County tourism destination and economic development initiative to be located in the region near the Rocky Knob Recreational Area on the Blue Ridge Parkway.

The effort gained the popular name, “The Rocky Knob Project.”

In 2006 the group formed a board of directors with equal representation from both counties, and that group initiated the process of incorporation as a membership-based nonprofit, today called Blue Ridge Heritage, Inc. (BRHI).

After the facilitation of diverse citizen input, the group turned to a team of professionals to solicit and codify visitor input. In 2007 BRHI commissioned a Virginia Tech/Clemson U. team to collect that visitor-based data, and to make recommendations to BRHI regarding the types of programs and services visitors said they’d be interested coming to visit.

The far-reaching study’s results are today widely available to economic development interests, entrepreneurs, and tourism businesses on the web and at local libraries.

Variously referenced as the Bi-County “Gap-Analysis,” “Visitor Survey/Analysis,” and “Asset Inventory” the full 2009 document can be viewed and/or downloaded HERE.

Potential properties on which to locate the effort were researched for 5 years, while a program of offerings and vision were developed. In September of 2012, the organization’s board of directors closed on the purchase of a site from which to begin offering programs.

Rocky Knob Info Sign

The long-awaited “Rocky Knob Project” takes root in 2012

After 7 years of organizing and research, Blue Ridge Heritage found and purchased a permanent home in late 2012.

Pond Evening

Did You Know?

The farmhouse on the BRHI property is available for rent. Want a weekend get-away in the mountains? Come stay and learn about our area. Brochures and educational materials are available to guide your exploration of our Floyd/Patrick culture. Contact our representative by clicking HERE.

For the latest news on BRHI activities and events, check the “Events” tab above.

You can also visit us on Facebook

FREE 2016 Programs to be announced. Keep up with all the BRH happenings by visiting us on Facebook!


May 28, 2013: Blue Ridge Heritage, Inc. (BRHI), in partnership with The American Chestnut Foundation (TACF) is planting native American chestnuts on the property BRHI purchased last year (in the Rocky Knob area of the Blue Ridge Parkway). These plantings are test sites, allowing the group to judge overall sun/shade, soil composition, and drainage for a future planting of the potentially blight-resistant chestnuts that TACF has named “Restoration Chestnuts.”

The test plots were selected by BRHI officers and vetted by Matt Brinckman, Mid-Atlantic Regional Science Coordinator, TACF. Brinckman and his summer intern, Jennifer Santoro, who is a graduate student at Duke University earning her master of forestry and master of environmental management degrees, brought 27 native American saplings to the BRHI property to plant on Tuesday, May 28, 2013. The group planted test areas with 5 and 6 saplings in each area. Although these non-resistant trees will eventually succumb to the blight, the partnership reps hope that they will live long enough to offer good data about which sites on the property the Restoration Chestnuts, to be planted in the future, will be able to thrive.

“We would love to allow visitors to this area to see surviving tall chestnut trees, which have been absent from this area for decades,” says Steve Swartz, BRHI president. “We are looking forward to a long-lasting partnership with The American Chestnut Foundation to mutually move our shared goals forward.”

Once the mighty giants of the eastern forests, American chestnuts stood up to 100 feet tall, and numbered in the billions. They were a vital part of the forest ecology, a key food source for wildlife and an essential component of the human economy. In 1904 the fungal pathogen responsible for chestnut blight, accidentally imported from Asia, spread rapidly through the American chestnut population. By 1950 it had killed virtually all the mature trees from Maine to Georgia. Several attempts to breed blight resistant trees in the mid-1900s were unsuccessful.

Blue Ridge Heritage, Inc. is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit dedicated to promoting education and economic development through place-based programs related to the natural and cultural heritage of Floyd and Patrick Counties. BRHI’s educational offerings will focus on the period of history between 1900 and 2000; this “Century of Change” includes the rise and fall of the “chestnut economy” in mountainous southwest Virginia. One goal of the group is to partner with TACF and showcase Restoration Chestnuts on the property along the Blue Ridge Parkway.

In 1983, a dedicated group of scientists formed The American Chestnut Foundation and began a special breeding process, which in 2005 produced the first potentially blight-resistant trees called Restoration Chestnuts 1.0. Now assisted by nearly 6,000 members and volunteers in 16 state chapters, the organization is undertaking the planting of Restoration Chestnuts 1.0 in select locations throughout the eastern US as part of the Foundation’s early restoration efforts. TACF is a 501(c)(3) conservation organization headquartered in Asheville, NC.

Chestnut Tree Planting Crew
Planting Group, left to right: Jennifer Santoro, Matt Brinckman (TACF), Ralph Lutts, Lee Chichester, Kerry Hilton (BRHI). Not shown: Steve Swartz (BRHI).
Planting Hybrid Chestnut Trees
Native American chestnut sapling.
Planting Hybrid Chestnut Trees
Teamwork between The American Chestnut Foundation and Blue Ridge Heritage to test potential planting sites for the Restoration Chestnuts the partnership hopes to plant in the future.
Planting Hybrid Chestnut Trees
One of five test plots planted with 5-6 saplings, and fenced from deer.

BRHI’s Chestnut Program begins during 2013

In partnership with The American Chestnut Foundation

Restoration Chestnut Saplings Planted

On November 19, 2013, representatives from Senator Tim Kaine’s office, from Patrick and Floyd Counties, and from both The American Chestnut Foundation (TACF) and the Dan River Basin Association joined Directors of Blue Ridge Heritage, Inc. (BRHI) to plant two 15/16ths American chestnut hybrid trees on the BRHI property in the Rocky Knob area of Floyd and Patrick Counties.

One of the trees was donated to BRHI in memory of previous owner Mr. Bramley by his family; the other was donated by TACF. Last spring, 100 percent American chestnut saplings were planted to test soil and exposure locations in preparation for the introduction of the hybrid (blight-resistant) chestnut trees that will be gradually introduced to the site over the coming decades, in partnership with TACF. Of those ~30 American chestnut saplings planted 6 months ago, approximately 10 have survived, and organizers hope they will continue to grow. As a test crop, those trees that take hold should survive until the blight undermines them at about 15 years old, offering valuable information to guide the future planting of the Restoration chestnut grove.

Participating in the planting were: Chris Collins from Senator Kaine’s office; Joe Turman, Supervisor from Floyd Co.; Lauren Yoder, Supervisor from Floyd Co., Tom Rose, Administrator for Patrick Co.; Dan Campbell, Administrator for Floyd Co.; Tiffany Haworth, ED of the Dan River Basin Association (Patrick Co.); Matt Brinckman, Mid-Atlantic Regional Science Coordinator for TACF; Richard Turman from Floyd; and Steve Swartz, Lee Chichester, and Wayne Kirkpatrick of BRHI.

“Part of Blue Ridge Heritage’s long-term plan,” says Steve Swartz, President of BRHI, “is to have a grove of these 15/16ths American, hybrid, Restoration chestnuts from The American Chestnut Foundation growing on this property for visitors to walk through. Our mission is to educate residents and visitors about 20th century life in these two counties, so our goal with this nascent Chestnut Program is to help us all understand what the loss of the chestnuts during the 20th century meant to the economies and culture of Floyd and Patrick Counties. In addition, it is meaningful for us all to understand more about the effort to restore the chestnut in America; and to experience some of the results of that effort.”

“These trees, which are 15/16ths American chestnut, represent 6 or 7 generations of back-crossing the American chestnut with blight-resistant oriental chestnut trees,” Matt Brinckman explains. “With each generation, we have ‘challenged’ the saplings with the blight, which means: we inject them with the blight. Those trees that survive the challenge are allowed to produce seed for the next generation, which is carefully crossed again with the native American chestnut.

“TACF has been working on this hybrid strain for decades, and we hope each tree sprouted from these nuts will be blight-resistant. We cannot be sure, however, that this is the final strain,” he cautions. “These are a test generation, and by planting them here today, their ability to survive or the stressors to which they are subject, if they do not survive, will be important data for our research.”

The planting took place after introductions and Q&A. Collins, Haworth, and Swartz planted one of the saplings; while Turman (Joe), Rose, and Brinckman planted the other. The guests participated in watering, fencing, and other details while networking and chatting amongst themselves.

Planting Hybrid Chestnut Trees
Dan Campbell & Steve Swartz remove the donated “Bramley Chestnut” from its pot.
Planting Hybrid Chestnut Trees
Chris Collins and Tiffany Haworth plant one of the saplings as Wayne Kirkpatrick and Lauren Yoder look on.
Chestnut Tree planting event
Steve Swartz introduces the program to those gathered.
Floyd and Patrick County officials with American Chestnut Fndtn Reps
Left to Right: Tom Rose, Richard Turman, Joe Turman, Chris Collins, Dan Campbell, Steve Swartz, Matt Brinckman, Tiffany Haworth, Wayne Kirkpatrick, Lauren Yoder.
Planting Hybrid Chestnut Trees
Filling the hole for the “Bramley Chestnut”
Planting Hybrid Chestnut Trees
Collins, Swartz, and Haworth plant the “Bramley Chestnut”
Planting Hybrid Chestnut Trees
Joe Turman, Matt Brinckman, and Tom Rose plant the sapling donated by The American Chestnut Foundation


April, 2016: Blue Ridge Heritage, Inc. volunteer board members are proud to announce the public presentation of our Master Plan and Design Concept for the 31 acres adjacent to the Rocky Knob Recreation Area, which shall become The Blue Ridge Heritage Education Center and Trails.

Documentation about the plan and design, including a primary Education and Visitor’s Center that will act as a Gateway to the wider Floyd and Patrick County area, as well as a teaching/learning center for local residents and visitors alike, is available at the links below. The progamming team, along with the board of directors members (each group made up of volunteer residents of Patrick and Floyd Counties), in partnership with Hill Studio out of Roanoke, worked for nearly 2 years to create an energy efficient, low-impact concept of total land use and facilities for the 31-acre site.

Long version of Master Plan (54 pgs)

Short version of Master Plan (16 pgs)

Visitor Center Concept Design


The Blue Ridge Heritage Education Center emerged from “The Rocky Knob Project.” This was a bi-county economic enhancement project initially conceived by 9th District Congressman Rick Boucher in the 1990s, but delayed until 2005, when federal funding was again available. He assembled an advisory committee composed of nearly 100 Floyd and Patrick County residents to develop ideas for the project, to be built in the area of the Rocky Knob Recreation Area of the Blue Ridge Parkway. The committee invited participation from the citizens of Floyd and Patrick Counties, and after several years of grassroots input, proposed a series of project concepts. It also established an organization to carry the project forward, Blue Ridge Heritage. It became a Virginia corporation in 2006 and received federal 501(c)(3) status as a nonprofit charitable organization.

Blue Ridge Heritage’s first step was to undertake a gap analysis—a market study designed to identify visitor preferences and opportunities that were not already being met in our region. In 2007 BRH engaged the services of a team of marketing faculty and graduate students from Virginia Tech and Clemson University. The study team reviewed the collected citizen recommendations and surveyed both on-site and potential visitors to the Blue Ridge Parkway and the bi-county region, primarily during the spring, summer, and fall of 2008. From this input they distilled those BRH/Rocky Knob Project members’ concepts that addressed the visitor needs identified by the gap analysis, projected potential visitation and income that the project might generate, and provided specific project recommendations with supporting documentation. This document was made widely available to tourism, governmental, and nonprofit entities throughout the region. This process led to the creation of the Blue Ridge Heritage Education Center vision, and the Gateway concept of a building that is not a destination but rather a starting point for visitors to explore more deeply the assets of the bi-county region. In addition, the group settled on an educational outreach that would focus on the Century of Change, to educate residents and visitors alike about the cultural heritage of the region from 1900 - 2000. The Center is designed to rally the resources of both counties to not only serve visitors, but also county residents—to share our natural, cultural, and recreational resources. It will operate year-round.

With the theme and purpose in mind, the next step was to select a site for the Center in keeping with the legislation that funded these first stages of planning and concept development. Options were further narrowed by the programmatic needs of the educational outreach that organizers envisioned. In addition, the nature of the funding dictated that no payment in gross excess of the professionally, independently appraised market value would be allowed by the fund administrator, VDOT.

A search committee selected and evaluated 13 potential sites, working from real estate listings. The group advertised the land-purchase effort in local newspapers. Late in the process, we began discussions with an owner whose property met both the BRH Education Center’s program needs and those of the federal procurement process. This qualifying site was selected and the land was purchased in August, 2012.

BRH has recently completed the fourth stage: The development of a Master Plan for the site, as well as existing, and envisioned facilities, including design concepts for the main Gateway Visitor Center: The Blue Ridge Heritage Education Center. Begun late in 2013 with the services of Hill Studios, an architectural and planning firm that assembled a team of architects, designers, engineers, exhibit designers, land-use and design professionals, and others, the Master Plan documentation was completed in late 2014, and some auxiliary materials (physical model, video, elevations) were delivered during 2015. The presentation materials will be used to undertake capital fund raising to construct the main facility and to develop the entire property.

The BRH/Hill Studio Master Plan and design concepts were made publicly available in April 2016, and in June, the announcement was made that the BRH Education Center’s Master Plan won the 2016 Outstanding Plan by a Nonprofit Award from the Virginia Chapter of the American Planning Association.