‘Shiver in the River’ Just One Month Away

I just checked the U.S. Geological Survey gauge at Cartersville. Forty-three degrees Fahrenheit is what the roiling James River is measuring right now. And that’s with a relatively mild winter so far. Which brings me to my point: Have you signed up yet for Shiver in the River on Saturday, February 29th

The annual polar plunge//fun run/community cleanup/party put on by Keep Virginia Beautiful is now a month away. And fear not: If jumping in the frigid James isn’t your thing, there’s much more to the event. Here are the details from our friends at KVB:

Register as an individual or put together your team to participate in the Community Cleanup, walk or run in the 5K, and/or take the James River Jump.  Remember the cleanup is free, the 5K is $30 (through the end of January) and you need to raise a minimum $75 for the privilege to jump. It’s easy to set up a fundraising page for the Jump or even showcase your love for Virginia by raising money for your efforts in the cleanup and 5K … and earn great incentive items like the coveted long sleeve t-shirt, plus more. Gather your family, friends, and co-workers. We look forward to seeing you on 2/29 for RVA’s Coolest Winter Festival. Did we mention we have live music, beverages, food, heated tents and fun activities? Go to  www.ShiverintheRiver.com to register today.

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Film Fest Flicks Offer Unique Calls to Action

Inspiring outdoor films on the big screen never disappoint, and this past Thursday night’s Wild and Scenic Film Festival, a fundraiser for the Alliance for the Chesapeake Bay hosted at the Science Museum of Virginia, was no exception.

The Festival began in 2003 thanks to the South Yuba River Citizens League (SYRCL, pronounced ‘circle’), a nonprofit river conservation group rooted in Nevada City, CA, in the foothills of the Sierra Nevadas. SYRCL was founded in 1983 by local activists determined to protect their river from dams, and “the festival’s namesake is in celebration of achieving Wild & Scenic status on 39 miles of the South Yuba River in 1999.” The annual festival and tour now visits over 185 communities around the globe, having grown over the years to feature hundreds of environmental short films, each a unique call to action in our changing world.

Thursday’s event at the Dome was the second year the Alliance brought the festival to the Bay watershed, with showings in Richmond; Washington, D.C.; Annapolis, MD; and Lancaster, PA.

Read on for synopses and links to each full film as available, learn more about the featured subjects, and get involved with related local activities*.

A New View of the Moon

What started as one guy taking his telescope to the sidewalk for a better view of the moon evolved into igniting child-like joy in countless passersby.

Blue Carbon

Ongoing research of coastal wetlands continues to demonstrate just how essential they are to human life, from protection against flooding to carbon sequestration.

Mexican Fishing Bats

On a small desert island in the Sea of Cortez, bats roost in rocks by day and go fishing at night. Scientists are studying these amazing mammals to determine how they do it and conserve their island home.


In Escape, JaBig is a Montreal-based DJ and cyclist attempting the record for longest continuous bike ride in one country, finishing in Canada’s Northwest Territories… in winter. Learn more about an organization JaBig rides to support, World Bicycle Relief.

Brotherhood of Skiing

1973 saw the first Black Ski Summit convene in Aspen, Colorado, to the delight and dismay of many. That first gathering, according to co-organizer Ben Finley, was to “identify and discuss problems and subjects which were unique to the Black skiing population, ski and socialize,” and it would later become the National Brotherhood of Skiers (NBS).


A group of teens and five veterans venture from Portland, Oregon, to the Arctic Circle for a challenging river expedition that will prove full of laughter, fly fishing, and lasting friendships. Learn more about Soul River Inc. here

March of the Newts

An intimate look at the lives of one species of salamander, the rough-skinned newt, brings awareness of an emerging disease afflicting amphibians which hasn’t yet arrived in North America. Let’s help keep it that way; our continent is home to more salamander species than any other.

For the Love of Mary

George Etzweiler is an accomplished runner with multiple records. He’s also 97 years old and has a pacemaker. This endearing film chronicles George’s 7.6-mile journey up 4,700 feet of road to the Northeast’s tallest summit in memory of Mary, his late wife of 68 years. Learn more about the Mount Washington Road Race here.

Clay Bolt

Nature photographer Clay Bolt’s work goes big but focuses small. With photos in National Geographic and other prominent publications, “the Bug Guy” explains why his chosen subject is the 99% of all life that’s smaller than your finger.

Our National Parks belong to everyone. So why are they so white?

At a time when only 20% of National Park visitors are people of color, this film examines troubling aspects of National Park Service history, the reasons why many people of color don’t feel welcome in these and other outdoor spaces, and how we can advance equity, inclusion, and access to public lands and the broader conservation movement.

Climbing Out of Disaster

In the aftermath of Hurricane Maria, climbing guide Bryant Huffman and other Puerto Rican climbers realized their skills could help the island recover. (Recovery efforts in Puerto Rico are ongoing. Use Charity Navigator to help you assess how best to give.)

My Mom Vala

Icelandic fly-fisher and mother Vala splits time between working at her family’s fishing lodge in Greenland and raising her daughter Mathilda in Reykjavík to be as adventurous as she is.


Doug Peacock is a legendary author, eco-warrior, and voice of the grizzlies. A Vietnam War veteran, he spent solitary years observing bears in Wyoming and Montana wilderness and dedicated his life to their protection.

Music of the Spheres

Astrophysicist Wanda Diaz-Merced analyzes the movement of celestial bodies in a unique way: through hearing. Having lost her sight in her 20s, she listens to the universe by converting large datasets into sound, and her work has inspired scientists and musicians around the world.

*We researched local organizations and projects doing work relevant to the subject matter of each film. They are not necessarily affiliated with the films, Wild and Scenic Film Festival, or the Alliance for the Chesapeake Bay. We did not receive payment or any other benefits to mention them.

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Former JRPS Manager, Nathan Burrell, Leaving City for State Role

Big news in this morning’s Times-Dispatch. Colleen Curran writes that “Nathan Burrell, the influential former superintendent of the James River Park System, is stepping down from Richmond’s Parks, Recreation and Community Facilities Department after 17 years.”

Anyone who’s spent time in the JRP over the past decade and a half has likely seen Burrell out building trail or driving around in his ubiquitous green park truck.

Writes Curran: “Burrell took over as superintendent of James River Park in 2013 after park manager Ralph White retired, serving as interim manager for a few months. In 2018, he was promoted to facilities maintenance manager of the city parks department.

“In an email, Burrell said that he received an unsolicited offer from Gov. Ralph Northam to serve as a deputy director with the Department of Conservation and Recreation. His last day with the city is Jan. 29.”

To read the entire T-D article, click here. And check out Burrell’s appearance on our “Views from the Treehouse podcast.”

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Friends of Pocahontas State Park Raise $210,000 for Swift Creek Parking Expansion

The Friends of Pocahontas State Park recently completed a $210,000 fundraising effort to expand parking at the Swift Creek Trailhead. The fundraiser was among the group’s biggest achievements of 2019 which they celebrated Tuesday, Jan. 14 by presenting a check to Pocahontas State Park Manager Nate Clark.

“It’s an honor to accept this donation from the Friends of Pocahontas State Park,” said Clark. “My sincerest appreciation goes out to the Friends of Pocahontas, rvaMORE, ASR Racing, Henry Lovin of Lee’s Chicken, rva Eligible Cyclist by Scott Terbush, Robyn Browne of Poca Go, Molly’s Bicycle Shop, Take Aim Cycling, Felix Garcia, Jay Paul Insurance, UPS, Dominion Energy Charitable Foundation and everyone who has helped make this project possible.”

Phase 1 of the project raised over $37,000 for the technical drawing and storm water management plans and was completed in spring of 2019. Phase 2 consists of the physical construction of the parking lot and will go out to bid in February or March now that funding has been secured.

The success of the fundraising campaign can largely be credited to local rider and match donor Jerry Guyant.

“I’ve been biking here for years and was hoping to help build additional trails,” Guyant said. “But the park explained they couldn’t support more trails and more riders without additional parking. So I said, ‘then let’s take care of the parking problem.’”

The planned parking expansion for the Swift Creek Mountain Bike Trails at Pocahontas State Park. Courthouse Road seen at top of picture.

Guyant is 78 and can been seen riding two to three times a week at the park. He told Clark he would commit to matching donations up to $100,000 between October and December 2019, and the race — as they say — was on.

Upon receiving the donation, Clark noted there was one more accomplishment to recognize. His staff then presented FoPSP board members with the Virginia State Parks 2019 Volunteer Organization of the Year Award recognizing the efforts of the community volunteers who work to enhance visitor experiences.

Many of the parks have “Friends of” organizations that support the parks with staffing, additional funding, and general labor around the park, but the FoPSP stood out in 2019.

“In 2019, the Friends of Pocahontas State Park contributed over 28,000 volunteer hours,” Clark said. “That’s the equivalent of 13 full-time employees.”

Roger Sattler, president of rvaMORE, a local mountain biking advocacy and stewardship group, was amazed at how the project came together.

“This is a great example of what can be accomplished between state officials, community members, and user groups and volunteers,” Sattler said.

“Pocahontas trail users not only show up with needs and desires, but they show up with solutions and a willingness to help accomplish those desires,” Clark added. He also noted this parking expansion will provide dedicated accessible parking spaces and better access for groups such as the Paralyzed Veterans of America, which holds twice-annual events on the park’s trails.

Sattler and rvaMORE volunteers are out nearly every weekend at the park helping maintain the 90 some miles of biking trails. The prospect of more parking has him excited for the next generation of riders.

“It’s one less obstacle for folks to enjoy healthy outdoor recreation at Pocahontas,” he said. “The proximity of the lot to the trail hub is perfect for families with small kids. Soon, they’ll spend more time riding the trails and less time getting to them.”

The Swift Creek Trails parking area is located at 7298 Courthouse Road on the northern boundary of the park. For more information about biking in Pocahontas State Park, visit https://www.dcr.virginia.gov/state-parks/biking.

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Update: Consulting Firm Offers Two Options for ‘Missing Link Trail’

One small area of land on Richmond’s southside holds great value to the James River Park System and all who enjoy it. In this narrow stretch of wooded floodplain between the river and Norfolk Southern railroad tracks, a proposed 2,700-feet trail, aptly named the Missing Link, would connect the 21st Street entrance to the park system and southside neighborhoods with the T. Tyler Potterfield Memorial Bridge and the north bank of the river. Countless individuals and organizations have campaigned for the Missing Link for at least two decades. Mayor Levar Stoney said he was committed to its completion nearly three years ago. And now new conversations about the future of recreation and conservation in the city have sparked renewed interest and increased awareness.

The James River Association’s Community Conservation Manager, Justin Doyle, says “The Missing Link is a priority one project in the Richmond Riverfront Plan, adopted by City Council in 2012. The [JRPS] Master Plan is being considered by City Council and has not been adopted yet.”

Hargreaves Jones (formerly Hargreaves Associates), which was involved in designing both the Riverfront Plan and the JRPS Master Plan, considered a total of six concepts. At a public meeting held on December 11, Kirt Rieder of Hargreaves Jones presented the top two proposed designs for the trail, Concepts E and F.

The Missing Link Trail would connect the south side access bridge to Belle Isle (thin green line on above map) to the Manchester Climbing Wall and the south end of the T. Tyler Potterfield Memorial Bridge.

Doyle says that the potential for flooding influenced the concepts developed: “One concept hugs the riverbank on Norfolk Southern property and is elevated above the river to an extent, but a major flood would inundate it. The second is a viaduct that would be elevated to minimize inundation.” Moving forward, Doyle says, “Norfolk Southern will need to be engaged by the City of Richmond.”

In live tweets from the December 11 meeting, Doyle shared that amenities such as seating and signage were considered, while lighting and trash receptacles were not.

City Council’s Land Use, Housing and Transportation Standing Committee is scheduled to consider the Master Plan (ORD. 2019-337) at its meeting tomorrow (Tuesday, January 21). Join the James River Association’s Action Network to help the JRA advocate for an accessible James River through the implementation of the Riverfront Plan. Visit Friends of the James River Park’s website to learn more about the Master Plan and access the final draft updated in October 2019.

Concept E 

Concept F

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Two New ‘Views from the Treehouse’ Episodes Now Live

What do a budding bike tour operator and a local arborist/physicist have in common? They’ve both recently shared the hot seat for our award-winning podcast — Views from the Treehouse.

Max Pendergraph, of Virginia Bike Roots, sat down with us to talk about the business of getting people to explore Virginia and beyond on two wheels. Scott Turner, owner of True Timber Arborists, shared his views on the urban forest, humans’ emotional connection to trees and how RVA’s outdoor rec scene has changed since he founded Riverside Outfitters 15 years ago.

Click here to see those two podcast episodes (and 48 others).

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Northam: Budget to Include $733 Million for Environment, Clean Energy

Governor Ralph Northam announced that his budget will include $733 million in new funding for the environment and clean energy—including a half-billion-dollar capital investment.

The budget creates Virginia’s first Office of Offshore Wind. It also invests up to $40 million to upgrade the Portsmouth Marine Terminal, to secure new investments in the offshore wind supply chain. These investments will help Virginia achieve 2,500 megawatts of energy generated from offshore wind by 2026.

“In Virginia, we are proving that a clean environment and a strong economy go hand-in-hand—and having both is what makes our Commonwealth such a great place to live, work, and play,” said Governor Northam. “These significant investments in environmental protection, environmental justice, clean energy, and clean water will combat climate change and ensure we maintain our high quality of life here in Virginia.”

The proposed budget supports the Chesapeake Bay clean water blueprint Governor Northam released earlier this year with investments to support local governments tackling stormwater pollution, upgrade wastewater treatment plants, and assist farmers implementing conservation practices to reduce farm runoff. When added to another $10 million for oyster reef restoration, these investments in clean water total more than $400 million and will put Virginia on track to meet the 2025 Bay cleanup deadline.

Governor Northam also proposed an additional $15.5 million investment for the Virginia Land Conservation Foundation grant program, bringing it up to $20 million each year, to support targeted land protection through the Governor’s groundbreaking ConserveVirginia initiative.

“This is great news for everyone who cares about clean water,” said Chesapeake Bay Foundation President William C. Baker. “The Governor’s proposed budget would substantially boost investment in key state programs that are already working to restore our rivers, streams, and the Chesapeake Bay. We are grateful to Governor Northam and his staff for their dedication and commitment to the Chesapeake Bay and ensuring clean water for all Virginians, now and in the future.”

As a result of Executive Order Six, which required a full needs assessment for the Department of Environmental Quality, the proposed budget includes more than $25 million to help the agency increase efficiency and responsiveness in permitting, enhance environmental protection, and improve public engagement. Notably, $2.7 million from DEQ will be directed towards environmental justice and community outreach efforts each year. In addition, Governor Northam will propose legislation to create a permanent Environmental Justice Council.

To ensure Virginia reduces carbon pollution, the Governor’s proposed budget removes language—added by the General Assembly—prohibiting Virginia’s participation in the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI). The Governor will also propose legislation making Virginia the newest member of RGGI.

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10th RVA Environmental Film Fest Coming Feb. 7

The 10th Annual RVA Environmental Film Festival returns from Feb. 7-13, 2020 and will showcase nearly 20 local and national films selected to raise awareness of environmental issues relevant to the Richmond region, our nation, and our planet. The festival features several nationally acclaimed works as well as the work of local film artists. Presenting sponsors include the Enrichmond Foundation, Sierra Club – Falls of the James Group, Ellwood Thompson’s, and VPM.

To counter the daily bombardment of dark climate news, many 2020 RVA EFF films will bring solution-oriented messages of hope with the goal of inspiring Richmond area audiences to promote planet health as an individual or by getting involved with a  local environmental group of their choice.

Film headliners are the Biggest Little Farm, Butterfly TreesThe Story of Plastic, and The Human Element.

Filmgoers will be taken on a cinematic journey to learn how humans – the fifth element – are changing the planet and experience wild Africa, from the blistering heat of the Namib Desert and the Nyiragongo Volcano to the shoreline of the Red Sea. They’ll also discover the worldwide Biophilic Model Cities Project and hear both heartwarming and heartbreaking stories of regenerative farming. 

Virginia Film Contest
Don’t miss films produced by the Festival’s Virginia Film contestants and winners on Sunday, February 9. The last day for contest entries is December 31.

Richmond Area Theatres
The Festival will take place at several convenient Richmond area locations including the Science Museum of Virginia, the City of Richmond Main Library, University of Richmond, Virginia Union University, Virginia Commonwealth University, and the Byrd Theater. A detailed schedule of dates, times, and locations will be posted on rvaeff.org as the Festival’s February dates approach.

Free Admission
The generosity of our program sponsors allows the Festival to remain free for all. In addition to our presenting sponsors, our family of over 25 contributors includes the University of Richmond Office for Sustainability, the VCU Biology Department and Center for Environmental Studies, RVA Department of Public Utilities, James River Association, and Blue Ridge Outdoors Magazine.

See rvaeff.org for more film schedule information as Festival dates approach.

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James River Wins Prestigious ‘Riverprize’

The James River has been selected as the 2019 Thiess International Riverprize winner at the International Riversymposium in Brisbane, Australia. The winner was selected by the International River Foundation, which recognizes remarkable outcomes for rivers, river basins and their communities. The prize is considered the most coveted award of river and watershed restoration and is based on accomplishments in integrated river basin management. 

The James River Association, which has served as a voice and advocate for the river for over forty years, submitted the application that summarized the restoration of the James from one of the nation’s most polluted rivers to one that has been consistently rated as the healthiest major tributary to the Chesapeake Bay by the University of Maryland. The JRA also produces a State of the James report which shows that the health grade of the James River has improved from a low D to a B- minus in 2019. 

“The James River Association has worked to improve the health of the James River since 1976 when the James was considered one of the most polluted rivers in the country. Winning the 2019 International Riverprize is a tremendous tribute to the progress that we have made together with the Commonwealth of Virginia and many public and private partners,” said William H. Street, Chief Executive Officer of the James River Association. “Receiving this award strengthens our resolve to continue this comeback story, and we hope it will inspire everyone who lives, works and plays around the James River to jump in and help out so the James remains a vital asset for our communities and for future generations.” 

The two other river finalists were the Chicago River in Illinois and the Whangawehi Stream in New Zealand. “We cumulatively degrade rivers – incrementally. And so it takes persistence, and dedication, and perseverance – and the shortlist of candidates this year have that in spades,” said Professor Paul Greenfield, Chair of the International River Foundation.

To find out more about the award, go to www.thejamesriver.org/riverprize

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$2M Land Buy Lays Groundwork for New Outdoor Rec Venture

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