We love our RiverRat volunteers! They act as the James River’s first line of citizen defense by assisting our Riverkeepers as the eyes and ears of the river and its tributaries. RiverRats come from all over the watershed, are all ages and have many different backgrounds. You don’t need to be a scientist or skilled paddler to become a RiverRat.
Meet Fred Kelly and Will Maddox, Lower James RiverRats. Fred is a retired mental health professional who currently lives in Dinwiddie County. His family has owned a cabin on the James River for five generations. This is where his father taught him to paddle and introduced him to the joys of being on the river. However, it was at that time a river in trouble. In those days the James was a dumping ground and it was not uncommon to find the shore lined with dead fish due to this pollution. There were fewer ducks, geese, osprey and virtually no eagles.
Thanks to the Clean Water Act and the efforts of local organizations like the James River Association, the river and its wildlife have bounced back. It is once again a place for recreation and creating memories. Fred shares his experiences on the James with his grandson Will. Fred says “Becoming a River Rat has greatly enhanced my enjoyment of being on the river by allowing me to become a protector of it as well. I only wish that I could have been doing this since I began paddling in the mid 1950s. I am especially pleased that my 15 year old grandson, Will, who took the River Rat training with me, will be in place to continue monitoring the river that he has grown to love long after I am no longer able to do so. I strongly encourage anyone who enjoys being on the river to get the training for becoming a River Rat. This is an opportunity that has been a long time coming. Don't miss it. Your river needs you.”
Here is what Fred had to say about his first RiverRat patrol with his grandson this past October:
Will and I have been paddling the James all of our lives and feel a need to preserve and protect this beautiful river. So when we heard about the River Rat program we were excited to get involved.
On October 23rd, we went on our first official River Rat patrol with the mission of shore clean-up. Hurricane Joaquin had produced flooding which carried lots of plastic, glass and other debris onto the shoreline. Our goal was to begin dealing with this problem by cleaning the shore on Tar Bay, part of our designated patrol area. After gathering and bagging trash from about 100 yards of shoreline, we headed out in our boat to collect a very large piece of debris that a previous storm had deposited on a tree nearby. It had been an eye-sore for months and we had talked about removing it all summer. This was the day. How good it was to see that pink, plastic car in our boat rather than on that tree!
Next, we decided to make a run around Coggins Point and up Powells Creek to check out its status after the hurricane. Powells Creek is beautiful any time of year with its mixture of hardwoods and marsh but this day was exceptional. We motored up about a mile or more into an area where few people venture and stopped to take pictures. The first thing Will spotted as he stepped out of the boat was a very lively crayfish. He had learned earlier this year while on a James River Expedition that crayfish are a good indicator of pollution-free water. So we are happy to report the good water conditions in that part of the creek. We also found no trash to clean up. How lucky we are to have such a pristine area to enjoy, and now, to help watch over.
Assisting the RiverKeepers on the James makes a recreational outing on the river very gratifying. It lets us give back to the river that has always given us so much pleasure.
Need another excuse to get out on the water? Want to make a difference while enjoying your time outdoors? Email Ben Hawkins at firstname.lastname@example.org to learn more about the RiverRats program or other volunteer opportunities.