I recently sat on the banks of the James River in Richmond, watching the whitewater rafters race through the Pipeline Rapids, squealing with delight as they splashed down the last rapid before they reached the take-out. All around them, I saw no less than seven herons perched on rocks. An osprey flew to its nest on a nearby old railway pier and turtles sunbathed on exposed rocks from low levels of the river.
Against the backdrop of the city skyline, I couldn’t help but think what a privilege and joy it is to live near this section of the James.
I lived in New England for seven years, spending most of my time in the mountains and forests. When I moved to Richmond in 2017, I arrived in brutal heat and humidity at the end of September.
I was drawn to the James River, where I saw people swimming and fishing, dogs wading through the water, and families and friends gathering. I watched kayakers and rafters race the Hollywood Rapids, having no idea at the time that the James River and this set of rapids would become such an important part of my life.
Even when the temperatures started to cool down, I found myself and my water-loving dog using our free time to explore the many public river access points within the city limits, such as the James River Park System works tirelessly to maintain.
Cooler temperatures meant fewer crowds, but the ever-present paddlers at the entrances over the rapids never diminished. As I got to know the regulars, I learned more about Richmond’s large boating community and the whitewater recreation opportunities here and throughout the Chesapeake Bay watershed. .
And it’s no secret that the more people are connected to their waterways, the more they want to protect them.
In Richmond, we have outfitters with trained guides to keep people safe on the river, whether it’s a whitewater trip through the rapids or a leisurely float in calm water. There are summer and after-school educational programs that aim to get students into canoes and kayaks, connecting them to local waterways. There are groups like James River Women, which aim to support more women and paddlers who identify as women on their journey to whitewater paddling.
Especially in summer, the James is very popular with river enthusiasts of all levels. Safety should be a priority for everyone and there are many resources to help paddlers and swimmers enjoy the river safely. We must remember that being safe on the river is often a privilege gained through exposure to guided trips, mentors, summer camps and more. Websites for Westham Gauge, Riverside Outfitters and James River Park System, as well as the How’s the James RVA Instagram page, help prepare people for a fun and safe visit.
Boaters, a powerful stewardship resource in the Chesapeake community, also provide voices on and off the river with river health and safety information.
I’ve seen paddlers share resources with other river users on how to get alerts on their phones when contaminated storm water enters the river and where to go to check bacteria levels at their places of favorite swim. I’ve seen paddlers advocating for more safety and river access education, including the recently built universal access ramp at Huguenot Flatwater. Paddlers promote these resources, follow local recommendations and set an example for others.
Not only do I get the chance to recreate on the river in my spare time, but I also get to connect with the Jameses in my day-to-day work life – as the Water Quality Monitoring Coordinator for the Alliance for the Chesapeake Bay. I help train community members to collect basic water quality trends. RiverTrends, started in 1985 and funded primarily by the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality, is an Alliance-run project that provides training, equipment, and technical support to volunteers who perform chemical and physical water quality monitoring. water in their communities.
The Alliance recently became involved in the Citizen Science Volunteer Water Quality Monitoring program in the District of Columbia, funded by the city’s Department of Energy and Environment. Along with our partners at Anacostia Riverkeeper, Rock Creek Conservancy and the Audubon Naturalist Society, we provide weekly water quality data to residents and visitors during peak recreational months. This is the first effort to integrate citizen science water quality data into the District Water Quality Plan, an important tool for management and policy assessments.
Most of these volunteers find us because they are already passionate about their local waterway. However, they are even more connected and informed by having a deep understanding of the waterway they inhabit. Collecting this data is crucial to informing the public about the safety and quality of our rivers.
Now more than ever, it is essential to see how water recreation and water quality are intertwined so that we can continue to enjoy the river as our outdoor playground while staying safe and healthy. health.
My journey with whitewater recreation and water quality are deeply connected, and I look forward to continuing to promote bay stewardship and river safety in my circles and beyond.
Sophie Stern is the Water Quality Monitoring Projects Coordinator for the Chesapeake Bay Alliance.
Opinions expressed by opinion columnists are not necessarily those of the Bay Journal.