Tuesday, June 2, 2015

Restoring Historic Riverfront in Powhatan

Some of the many volunteers who gave their time to this project
Through a Virginia Department of Forestry grant, the James River Association (JRA) partnered with the Chesapeake Conservancy and the Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament to enhance and restore the riverfront along the James River at St. Francis/St. Emma, also known as Historic Belmead, in Powhatan, VA. 

Belmead was originally built as a plantation home along the banks of the James River. In the late 1800s, the Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament transformed the property into two private schools for African American and Native American students. Unfortunately, financial setbacks caused the schools to close in the 1970s and most of the historic buildings to be demolished. In 2011, this historic 2,265-acre property was listed by the National Trust for Historic Preservation as one of America’s 11 Most Endangered Historic Places.

Doug Audley from the Department of Forestry
 shows volunteers how to properly plant a tree seedling 
JRA and the Virginia Outdoors Foundation both hold a conservation easement on 1,000 acres of land along the riverbank and throughout the years have worked closely with the Sisters to protect and enhance this historic property’s riverfront.

Over the course of five workdays this spring, 89 volunteers spent 342 hours of their time planting 1,500 native Virginia trees along a half-mile of James River-front. Plantings along the banks of waterways (riparian buffers) are important for three major reasons. First, they filter runoff that could include sediment and excess nutrients that flow off the land. Second, they provide wildlife habitat along the river corridor. And lastly, they reduce erosion by holding the soil along the banks in place. Even if your home does not border a waterway, trees are an important feature for any property because they reduce stormwater runoff and provide aesthetic value. Tree canopies capture and store rainfall and reduce soil erosion. They take up a large amount of water from the soil and provide important habitat for wildlife.
Planting 1,500 trees

Native Virginia trees planted at Belmead include:

River Birch (Betula nigra)
Black Walnut (Juglans nigra)
Yellow Poplar (Liriodendron tulipifera)
Sycamore (Platanus occidentalis)
Black Cherry (Prunus serotina)
Pin Oak (Quercus palustris)
Willow Oak (Quercus phellos)
Hackberry (Celtis occidentalis)

Many thanks go out to the volunteers who gave their time to this project. We couldn’t have done it without you!

If you are interested in projects like this, visit JRA’s Volunteer Center to become a volunteer today!

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Grapevine Bridge Access Site is a Finalist for Better Housing Coalition Golden Hammer Award

The Grapevine Bridge river access site is a finalist for a Better Housing Coalition Golden Hammer Award! 

The Golden Hammer Awards celebrate thoughtful revitalization of Greater Richmond’s neighborhoods and recognizes the best residential, adaptive reuse, new construction, and community placemaking projects in Greater Richmond. The Grapevine Bridge river access site is a finalist in the "Placemaking" project category. Awards will be presented May 21st, 2015 during TransformRVA at the Omni Hotel. 

Vote for your favorite projects here!

The Grapevine Bridge river access site opened to the public in November 2014 and provides low-impact fishing, canoe, and kayak access on the Chickahominy River in eastern Henrico County. 

 The effort to enhance the site began in early 2014 when a concept plan for the site was developed by James River Association staff and numerous volunteer events were held to beautify and improve the site for public enjoyment. Improvements include a trail and boardwalk, canoe launch, benches, and interpretive signage for the Chickahominy Water Trail, a segment of the Captain John Smith Chesapeake National Historic Trail. 

The project is a collaboration between the James River Association, Virginia Department of Transportation, Henrico County, and National Park Service. In addition to being the guardian of the James River, the James River Association works to connect communities to the James River and its tributaries for quality of life and economic benefits. To learn more about the James River Association's public access work visit www.jrava.org.

Friday, April 24, 2015

2015 Poster Contest

The results are in from the fifth annual “What a Healthy River Means to Me” poster contest.  Middle school students in the City of Richmond, City of Lynchburg, City of James City County, Henrico County and Chesterfield County that are situated within five miles of the James River  were invited to illustrate “What a Healthy River Means to Me”.  

This year we had nearly 400 students submit entries that depicted what a healthy river means to them

1st Place:
Gabrielle Schofield
Teacher: Donald Mugford
Tomahawk Creek Middle School, Chesterfield County

  2nd Place:
Conner True
Teacher: Naomi Swyers
Elizabeth Davis Middle School, Chesterfield County

 3rd Place:
Chloe Adams
Teacher: David Marshall
Tuckahoe Middle School, Henrico County

4th Place
Amanda Krepps
Teacher: Theresa Caraher
Robious Middle School, Chesterfield County

Honorable Mentions:

Annisa Ruff
Teacher: Mr. Bearman
Lucille M. Brown Middle School, City of Richmond

Catherine Nelli
Teacher: Whitleigh Wilhelmi
Tuckahoe Middle School, Henrico County

Jill Gomes
Teacher: Whitleigh Wilhelmi
Tuckahoe Middle School, Henrico County

Katrin Gaber
Teacher: David Marshall
Tuckahoe Middle School, Henrico County

Zoe Manring
Teacher: Whitleigh Wilhelmi
Tuckahoe Middle School, Henrico County

Jaelen Brown
Teacher: Mr. Bearman
Lucille M. Brown Middle School, City of Richmond
JRA would like to congratulate the winners and thank all the students and teachers who showed us "What a Healthy River Means to Me"!

This poster contest was made possible through a generous donation by a long-time JRA member and James River Advocate.  Thank you so much for your continued support!

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

2015 James RiverFest

This Saturday the 25th, the James River Association will be hosting the Fourth Annual James RiverFest at Eco Discovery Park in James City County. This years’ festival will have many new and exciting features sure to appeal to anyone who wants to learn more about preserving “our nation’s founding river”.

Have you ever wondered how long a Great Atlantic Sturgeon can grow to be, what a water footprint is, or how to properly escape an environmental fire?  This year learn these and much more as we focus on learning about our environment and how we can protect it for generations to come. 

Along with the James River Association and Eco Discovery Park, our friends at Historic Jamestowne, the Jamestown-Yorktown Foundation, Chippokes Plantation State Park, the Mariner’s Museum, James City County Fire Department, Stormwater and Parks and Recreation Divisions, and many more will be providing fun and educational activities for all ages.

Participate in one of Chesapeake Experience’s free kayak paddles down Powhatan Creek or take a free pontoon boat ride with Jamestown Boat Tours.  Eco Discovery Park will also have bikes, kayaks, and stand up paddleboards available to rent throughout the day. 

See Forever Wild’s live animal demonstration and a touch tank displaying critters found right in our river. Bring the kids to complete our ‘treasure map’ of questions to which only our educational tents can provide the answers - learn something new while having fun!

A selection of incredibly talented local artisans will be showcasing their work and we can’t forget the food! In Layman Terms and The UnXpected, both local bands, will be providing live music during the event.

Take advantage of this great opportunity to enjoy our river and all that it has to offer! We hope to see you there!

Monday, April 6, 2015

The James River: A Moving Pipeline

The path of James River through Virginia carries millions of gallons of life-sustaining nourishment daily. But are you aware that it is also a winding course for exploding toxic substances?

A now renowned region of North Dakota recognized by oil prospectors to hold a geologic formation called the "Bakken play" might conjure images of the days of the Wild West. Hydraulic fracturing, or "fracking" -- a controversial method of extracting fossil fuels deep beneath the earth's surface -- is creating boom towns in this region. An influx of fracking and oil production workers has transformed sleepy, rural Dakota villages into booming industrialized towns overnight. The industry's goal: Get the oil out of the ground...and make it snappy. 
But then what? There is not endless storage capability for oil, so the industry is anxious to transport it to refineries quickly. Adequate pipeline infrastructure to meet this desire does not exist in the Bakken region, though, so the oil industry has taken to placing this crude oil into 1.5-mile long trains and shipping it across the continent daily. Federal regulations allow the industry to use antiquated shipping cars that have been documented for decades as being likely to spill and rupture during a derailment.

So what does oil from North Dakota have to do with the health & safety of James River, the protection of drinking water for many thousands of Virginians, and your community? And why has James River Association -- whose mission is to protect a river -- become so involved in this rail-based issue?
Please visit www.RiverAtRisk.org now to ensure solutions that benefit Virginians rather than the continuation of avoidable risks to our communities and irreplaceable water resources.

Unit trains carrying their hazardous and volatile cargo travel along a route that parallels, crosses and hovers over Virginia's James River for hundreds of miles over infrastructure that is minimally and self-inspected. Each month, as much as 15 million gallons or more of this highly toxic and explosive Bakken crude travels via rail line from West Virginia across the Commonwealth en route to Yorktown, Virginia. Bakken crude is not what you might typically visualize when you hear the term "crude oil". It is in fact a "light, sweet" crude oil that behaves much more like gasoline in its volatility, or likelihood to cause a dangerous explosion. Considering these similarities, I find it helpful to imagine the tankers to be loaded with millions of gallons of gasoline in forecasting possible derailment scenarios.

After reaching Yorktown, train tanker contents are offloaded onto tanker ships at a recently retrofitted transfer facility, and finally sent to refineries along the east coast. Lynchburg received national press last year for a derailment and alarming accounts of the April 30 derailment, James River oil spill and breathtaking explosion. Lynchburg, however, is by no means the only population center and resource along the oil-by-rail route. During its tour de Virginia, rail tankers travel through the heart of the towns of Covington and Clifton Forge -- along the James headwaters of Dunlap Creek and Jackson River. Upon the rail confluence with James River at its origin in Iron Gate, trains of Bakken crude make their winding, narrow path through Botetourt County, including the historic river towns of Eagle Rock, Buchanan, Natural Bridge Station and Glasgow. From the beautiful Allegheny Highlands, tankers of oil flow through the fabled Blue Ridge in full view of the James Face Wilderness Area and our National Forest lands -- through the most biologically diverse river gorge in the eastern United States. After straddling the Bedford-Amherst County line and passing through the Big Island industrial town and industrial facility, the trains roll into Lynchburg City to begin their snaking trek across the Piedmont of Central Virginia. Before approaching the fall line, Virginians can encounter black tankers of oil rolling through Galts Mill, Gladstone, Howardsville, Scottsville, the fabled Seven Islands, Bremo Power Plant, Goochland and Powhatan Counties, Richmond's James River Park System and Maymont Park. 

Bakken oil will cross innumerable creeks and tributaries on historic bridges, encountering countless public parklands, trails, schools, government buildings, hunting and fishing grounds and traversing hundreds of miles of private farmland, forest, neighborhoods, industries and businesses. If you look up while in Richmond City you may observe oil trains overhead from several vantage points, including Belle Isle, Texas Beach, Brown's Island, the Riverfront Canal Walk, Dock Street, the Virginia Capital Trail and Rocketts Landing. You can easily identify oil tankers by the bright red placards with the number "1267" aside each tanker.  Eastbound, loaded -- headed west, going back for more.

The February  2015 spill damaging the Kanawha River in West Virginia resulted in no fatalities and only a single injury. Thousands of citizens were evacuated and displaced, and two separate drinking water resources were threatened. One home was burnt to its foundation. Similarities between the West Virginia derailment to the Lynchburg derailment on April 30, 2014 include: Identical model of rail car (the "safer" CPC-1232), identical cargo (Bakken crude oil), identical rail carrier (CSX) and identical rail line (destined for Yorktown).

The Lynchburg events were not a fluke or a simple case of "bad luck". Derailments of these shipments have become routine occurrences in North America since 2013. Federal estimates forecast derailments to become exponentially more deadly, costly and frequent without intervention. As Virginians, we have the guaranteed right to waterways free of impairment. Your right to drinkable, swimmable and fishable water is unnecessarily jeopardized each time these unsafe trains are permitted to carry their cargo over and along our river.

If you share in our concern about Virginia's natural legacy and the river that will be left to our children, then please lend a voice to your voiceless river. Through JRA's Our River At Risk campaign, you will be provided with specific opportunities on how you can participate in securing a healthy James River for you, your family, your community and your future. Protections are possible and available but only with your involvement. 

Please visit www.RiverAtRisk.org now to ensure solutions that benefit Virginians rather than the continuation of avoidable risks to our communities and irreplaceable water resources.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Where have all the heron gone?

by Nick Kotula, JRA Guest Contributor

Every year the swallows return to Capistrano.  Every winter the monarch butterfly returns to Mexico.  When a new iPhone comes out all of our old iPhones don’t work as well as they used to.  And at the beginning of spring the herons return to their nesting spot by Pipeline Rapids in Richmond, Virginia on the James River.  This is just how the world works.  Or so I thought.

You may or may not remember my reporting on the heronry (herons + rookery = heronry) in 2012 and again in 2013.  I’m not the only one who expected the return of these fantastic birds.  The City of Richmond has flags proclaiming the “Heron Rookery” and the James River Park System has signage explaining their mating and nesting habits at Pipeline Rapids.  Perhaps we were all na├»ve, because this year the herons did not return.

An active heronry in early February 2012.

Nothing but empty nests in late March of 2015.
I first went to check on the heronry in early February.  It was cold, and it had been even colder so I wrote off the lack of feathered friends as a wintry fluke.  Wouldn’t you have liked to stay south this winter?  Come the beginning of March, I began to have my doubts.  This week I went to check up one more time, and only found one solitary heron.

One is the loneliest number that you'll ever do.
When not in mating mode, the heron is a solitary and territorial creature.  After an hour spent on the rocks and the pipe at the rapids, I had to conclude that this was this singular heron’s territory, and there would be no nesting here this year.  The Richmond-Times Dispatch had written a piece earlier in the month about this, but I wanted proof and I refused to give up hope.  But a heronry is not a fast endeavor.  Courting is a complex process, even for herons.  Much like humans the heron males has to display his manly feathers, dance the man dance of his people, and lock bills with his intended.  The males then spend weeks collecting the stickiest sticks that they can find, building the perfect nest they can and then watching as their intended completely shows them how everything they did was wrong and does it themselves.  And don’t even get me started on the mating!

The point is this all takes time.  If it hasn’t happened yet, it’s not likely to happen.  Much like the Purple Martins (whose murmurations inspired a festival at the 17th Street Market in Richmond), the herons have found somewhere else to nest in 2015, and we may never really know why.

He's certainly not telling.
So what does this mean?  Well, on a positive note:  A heron with little heron mouths to feed typically consume about 4 times their body weight in fish per day.  Despite their large size, your typical heron only weighs about 5-6 lbs due to their hollow bones.  So that’s about 20 lbs of fish per day.  Adult shad weight between 3 to 8 lbs, for our purposes we’ll average this out at 6lbs.  That means every heron that is not here means an extra 3 (and some change) shad per day.  (The shad run through Pipeline was thought to be one of the primary reasons for the heronry, but they are known to eat other fish and also amphibians and even rodents!)  Multiply that 3 fish by the 100 or so herons that were usually there and you end up with a lot less competition for a lot more fish for those humans who enjoy that kind of thing.  (This all assumes that the herons are not nesting further downstream and catching them before they ever make their way to Pipeline.)  If the run is good again this year, fishermen should take delight.

And a good year for osprey!
Personally though, it just makes me sad.  The return of the herons was like seeing good friends who abandoned you for warmer climes during an absolutely miserable winter.  They were a sign of spring more potent to me than daffodils or tax forms.  While I’m glad to see one hunter holding down the fort (so to speak) I really hope next year sees a return of my winged brethren, otherwise those flags are going to look pretty daft.

Friday, February 27, 2015

Top 10 Apps for River Users by the James River Association's RiverRats

Many of us go out on the river or into the woods to get away from technology, but these days most of us take our Smartphone with us. Below are JRA’s RiverRats favorite apps that make their trip safe, educational, and fun!

  •  3D Compass: This App places a lat long and map on all pictures that you take and serves as a compass. Mike Easingwood, RiverRat
  •  Fishings Spots: Use this to let others do the work for you & know where the fishing holes are! Isaac Nolte, RiverRat
  • Google Earth: This is a website and an App. It allows you to scope out an area before your trip or to track where you are and get coordinates while you are out. Lynn Wilson and Isaac Nolte, RiverRats
  •  Pocket Ranger, Official VA State Parks GuideUse this to learn more about where you’re headed if it’s a State Park. Isaac Nolte and James C. Shaver, Jr., RiverRats
  • Sibley Birds: This is a great App to take out with you to identify birds. Lynn Wilson, RiverRat. Another option if you are looking for a great beginner bird id app for free, try out Merlin Bird ID. Just answer a few questions about the bird you are trying to identify and this App will give you some possible matches. James C. Chaver, Jr., RiverRat
  • Simple Tides: Great for paddling parts of the tidal James River watershed. This app allows you to view the tide chart and weather for your chosen location. Isaac Nolte, RiverRat
  • VA Tree ID:  The app includes information on over 900 woody plants in Virginia and also uses GPS to narrow down possible species for where you are located. James C. Chaver Jr., RiverRat
  • VA DGIF Hunt Fish VA: Use this to hopefully figure out the rules and regulations before you reel one in! Isaac Nolte, RiverRat
  •  Water Reporter: If you live anywhere in the Chesapeake Bay watershed, this App allows you to report good and bad things you may see. Pat Calvert, Upper James Riverkeeper
  • Weather Channel: Simple weather App that lets you view hourly forecasts and radar. Lynn Wilson, RiverRat
If you want to browse other Apps that fellow outdoorsmen recommend, check out these links: