June 23, 2011
Virginia high school students and teachers are taking a four-week trip down the James River for on-site lessons in preserving the environment and protecting the river's watershed.
The inaugural James River Expedition starts Saturday at the headwaters near Clifton Forge and will end in Hampton on July 22. Two guides from the James River Association, 12 students and four teachers from four schools along the river's watershed will take the 340-mile trip down the river in canoes, with some excursions in whitewater rafts, historic flat-bottomed batteaux and work boats.
Trip leader Gabe Silver, James River Association's education and outreach manager, says the expedition will provide a firsthand look at the role the James plays in Virginia's history, culture, environment and economy — and why it's vital to protect and restore its resources. The river's watershed encompasses about 10,000 square miles — about a quarter of the state's land area.
Participants will take samples from the James to determine water quality, map the river's resources, and examine Lynchburg's efforts to reduce stormwater runoff. The group also plans to tour the Presquile National Wildlife Refuge near Hopewell and other conservation areas to learn about their role in helping preserve the habitat of migratory birds and other animals in the James River watershed.
The students and teachers from Richmond's Open High School, Albemarle High School, E.C. Glass High School in Lynchburg and Bethel High School in Hampton will also learn about the river's historic and cultural underpinnings and the history of the Chesapeake Bay's watermen. They also will meet with members of Virginia's Indian tribes.
One of the final excursions will be a visit to a landing facility near the mouth of the Chesapeake Bay where commercial fisheries bring in their crab catches, and students can understand how water quality along the waterway ultimately affects those who depend on the river downstream.
"They'll see where the water is work and is the community's economy," he said.
Caleigh Remocaldo, a rising senior at Open High School in Richmond, lives near the river but admits she doesn't know much about it. She looks forward to taking a wider look at the James, including its ecology, history and environmental preservation efforts — as well as paddling long distances, giving up text-messaging and sleeping outdoors for a month.
"I'm sure it's going to be a struggle, but it's a learning experience," she said.
Remocaldo says she particularly looks forward to whitewater rafting through Richmond's falls, visiting the Chickahominy Indian tribal grounds and "working together and figuring out this land that we've been given."
They'll stay in tents each night along the river, sometimes in state and national parks, and take turns setting up camp, preparing meals and photographing and documenting the journey on blogs so others can follow along. Expedition participants will draw upon their summer experience when they conduct environmental-preservation projects in their communities during the upcoming school year.
Dominion Foundation, the philanthropic arm of Dominion Resources, is supporting the trip with a $50,000 grant.
The expedition comes as the National Park Service is continuing to develop the Captain John Smith Chesapeake National Historic Trail, which launched in 2007 and traces the British trader's travels around the Chesapeake Bay and its rivers, including the lower James, Silver said. The park service calls the multistate trail a work in progress, and the agency seeks input in efforts to highlight culturally and environmentally important places along the waterway.
Silver said the students plan to present what they learn from the expedition at a National Park Service workshop.