While Virginia has always been a pro-business state, and residential and commercial developments are eating into our green spaces, the state and the federal governments also have protected many thousands of acres of land in its natural condition. The Shenandoah National Park gets most of the ink, but it is dwarfed by our state parks and national forests.

But the conservation war is not won. As I write, some of our residents, including Oscar-winning actor Robert Duvall, are fighting plans to build a 138,000-square-foot Walmart store on the edge of The Wilderness Civil War Battlefield near Fredericksburg. "I believe in capitalism," Duvall said, "but I believe in capitalism with sensitivity."

Take Nothing, Leave Nothing -- When visiting our natural areas, we should all observe the golden rule of the wilderness: Leave nothing behind, and take away only memories and photos.

Virginia Green

The Virginia Tourism Corporation and the state Department of Environmental Quality also are active. Together they have created Virginia Green, a program to promote sustainable tourism (www.virginia.org/green).

More than 300 hotels, motels, bed-and-breakfasts, inns, cabins, and other lodging have been certified as Virginia Green to acknowledge their efforts in conserving water and energy, recycling their waste, reducing or eliminating the use of Styrofoam, getting us to use our linen more than once before sending it to the laundry, and sponsoring events to promote a green environment.

The Department of Environmental Quality publishes a list on its website (www.deq.virginia.gov/p2/virginiagreen/lodging_participants.html). When making your plans, look for the Virginia Green logo on the approved establishments' own websites.

What We Can Do

It's up to us travelers to practice sustainable tourism, which means being careful with the environments we explore, and respecting the communities we visit, including Virginia.

Two overlapping components of sustainable travel are ecotourism and ethical tourism. The International Ecotourism Society (TIES; www.ecotourism.org) defines ecotourism as responsible travel to natural areas that conserves the environment and improves the well-being of local people. TIES suggests that ecotourists follow these principles:

  • Minimize environmental impact.
  • Build environmental and cultural awareness and respect.
  • Provide positive experiences for both visitors and hosts.
  • Provide direct financial benefits for conservation and for local people.
  • Raise sensitivity to host countries' political, environmental, and social climates.
  • Support international human rights and labor agreements.

Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.