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Gift Protects 3 Appomattox River Islands

Check out this cool news from our friends at the Capital Region Land Conservancy:

Even for a land trust, it isn’t every day someone offers you a gift of an island, let alone three. In early November, the Capital Region Land Conservancy received just such an overture from Joan Cowan proposing a donation of Grape Island, Hyde Island, and Watson Glenn Island in the Appomattox River in southern Chesterfield County.

The islands that are part of the easement total nearly 9.5 acres of land.

CRLC’s staff and Board of Directors acted swiftly in the waning days of 2018 to take ownership of this property in the portion of the Appomattox River designated as a state scenic river since 1977. By the time the new year had begun, significant due diligence and the transfer of the islands to CRLC’s ownership were complete. In working with both Chesterfield County and another local nonprofit, Friends of the Lower Appomattox (FOLAR), CRLC was able to plan for the islands’ future. The change in ownership and the eventual public accessibility of the islands align with the Appomattox River Trail master plan FOLAR drafted in 2017.

“We were pleased to facilitate the connection between Mrs. Cowan, CRLC, and Chesterfield County as part of our mission to conserve and protect the Appomattox River for all to enjoy,” said Wendy Austin, FOLAR Executive Director. “We look forward to future opportunities to work together with CRLC to benefit the health of the river and our communities.”

The cluster of small, forested isles lies down river from Brasfield Dam and the Lake Chesdin Reservoir and total about nine and a half acres. The islands are visible from the southeastern side of the river from the wheelchair accessible Lower Appomattox River Trail System that runs from Ferndale Appomattox Riverside Park in Dinwiddie County to the west for a mile and a half along a historic canal tow path. On the northeastern side of the river, the islands are in close proximity to the 87-acre John J. Radcliffe Conservation Area and its canoe/kayak launch about a mile upriver in Chesterfield County. The protection of these islands therefore has great scenic value for visitors on the water as well as those who may never step foot on or paddle by the islands.

The magic attendant to islands, associated in the imagination and the arts with a sense of retreat and exploration, inspired the gift from their former owner and donor Mrs. Cowan who noted the many adventures they afforded family and friends while also allowing her “… to escape from all of the world for a week of peace and quiet while on my own little oasis … painting the peaceful settings of nature.” It is Mrs. Cowan’s wish that the islands be available to the public for their own respite and enjoyment without damage to their natural resources and no hunting of the resident wildlife.

Though the islands will not be open to the public during the time they are in CRLC’s ownership, CRLC is working to transfer them to Chesterfield County’s Department of Parks and Recreation so future nature lovers will be free to make any of the islands a stop on their excursions through a section of the river notable for its sense of remoteness. Chesterfield County Board of Supervisors’ member Steve Elswick said, “Every community has places of importance to them that deserve protection. It’s this part of our region that is particularly special to me and those in the Matoaca district that celebrate our river. We thank CRLC for working to preserve these islands and the many opportunities they afford us now and in the future.”

The Appomattox in winter repose.
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New Northbank Trail Section Takes Shape

A portion of the new trail section runs along a chainlink fence.

There was a record turnout last Saturday for the first volunteer work day on the North Bank connector trail. Tons of progress was made, as the pictures I’ve included show. But there is still lots more work ahead to get this new trail open. RVA MORE is offering another work day this upcoming Saturday, January 26th.  

Once again volunteers should meet at the Texas Beach parking lot (click here for map) at 9 a.m.

Orange flagging, and this dog, mark the roughed-in trail path.
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Shrinkage City: Shiver in the River Set for Feb. 23

Considering the temperature outside, this seems a particularly apt time to mention that Keep Virginia Beautiful will be conducting its 5th annual James River polar plunge — Shiver in the River on Saturday, February 23rd. Register by putting together a FirstGiving fundraising page, and get ready to jump!

Shiver in the River is a daylong festival, including a Community Clean-Up, a 5K Walk/Run, the James River Jump, and the Winter Festival. The Community Clean-Up, starting at 10 a.m., entails a cleanup along the banks of the James River, in the RVA community, as well as possible self-directed cleanups in your own neighborhood. This is a hands-on opportunity not only for those participating in the 5K or James River Jump,
but also for families and friends showing support.

The 5K Walk/Run, starting at noon, offers a scenic route of Richmond and the James River. Feel free to walk or run. Participants receive a short sleeve t-shirt and beverage ticket with registration. 5K pricing is $30 until January 31st, with a price increase to $35 starting February 1st and $40 the 22nd and 23rd. Children ages 5 to 12 are $15 when accompanied by an adult.

The James River Jump, beginning at 1:30 p.m., will take place at the chilly banks of the James right by Historic Tredegar. Wearing fun, crazy costumes is highly encouraged! You must raise a minimum of $75 to participate in the James River Jump and earn the commemorative long sleeve t-shirt. This year, you can donate from the warmth of your home! Register to donate $25 andKVB will send you a pair of warm knit gloves.

The Winter Festival will be held from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m., pre and post James River Jump, where you can treat yourself to heated tents, food, beverages, and live music.

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Get Your Nature on at the Wild and Scenic Film Fest

Love the outdoors? Join our friends at the Alliance for the Chesapeake Bay in Richmond for the Wild & Scenic Film Festival. This one-night event at the Science Museum will bring together a diverse audience from around the community to educate and inspire viewers to align with the Alliance and take action towards clean water and healthy community. Ticket prices include one drink ticket and an Alliance pint glass. Parking is free.

The event will begin with a pre-movie happy hour at 5:30 pm with beer from Väsen Brewing Company and cocktails from Belle Isle Moonshine. One drink ticket is included with the price of admission and additional drinks will be available for purchase. Goatocado and The Dog Wagon will be on site for food sales.

Films begin at 6:30pm in the Science Museum’s Dome theater. Film festival schedule:

Happy Hour – 5:30 pm
Film Program – 6:30 pm – 9pm

If you have any questions, please reach out to Adam Bray at or 804-729-6284.

 To check out the films that will be screened, go to the event Facebook page.

Purchase your tickets here! 

What: Wild and Scenic Film Festival 

Where: The Science Museum of Virginia, 2500 W Broad St, Richmond, VA 23220

When: January 24th, 2019, 5:30 – 9:30 p.m.

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Take Survey to Shape Future of James River Park

Did you know the Friends of the James River Park and the City of Richmond are working on a huge new master plan that will guide the park’s usage and development for decades? Well, they are. And they need as much public input as possible.

From their website: The Master Plan will help maintain the quality of the experience for Park users, protect the health of the river and wildlife, and preserve its natural beauty for generations to come. It will prioritize Park improvements for highest and best use for the City and region, focusing on neighborhood and community connections to JRPS. The Friends of James River Park and the City Of Richmond’s Parks, Recreation and Community Facilities Department will use this document as a road map to work with all vested individuals, public and private organizations to implement this long-term community vision.

Whether you’re a regular, sometimes or infrequent park user, the Friends and the city want to hear from you. Click here to take the short survey.

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2018’s Record Rainfall and What It Means for the James River

Ben Watson, a staff scientist with the James River Association, has a great piece on the organization’s website about the possible impacts 2018’s incredible rain totals could have on the James River going forward.

2018 was full of river height graphs that looked like this.

His article first offers some context on just how wet 2018 was before looking at all that rain’s impact on sediment pollution, nutrient pollution, fish migration, and oysters.

The upshot? Mostly not good. Writes Watson about nutrient (i.e. phosphorous and nitrogen) pollution: There is a very tight correlation between the average annual flow of the James River and the associated “load” of nutrient pollution, and while 2018 data are preliminary, this relationship allows us to make an educated guess regarding our annual results.  The verdict?  2018’s nutrient pollution loads will almost certainly be among the highest on record. 

Click here to read the entire piece.

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Environmental Issues at the 2019 General Assembly

I wanted to pass along this info from our friends at the James River Association, as today marks the kickoff of the 2019 General Assembly. With only 45 days to finalize the 2020 budget and tackle pressing water quality issues impacting our state, here are the JRA’s top priorities for this legislative session.

Keep Coal Ash Out of the James

Right now, Dominion Energy has over 24 million tons of coal ash piled up at three locations within the James River watershed. Coal ash is a waste product of coal-burning power plants that can carry toxics and heavy metals. Much of Dominion’s ash sits in unlined ponds along our riverbank, vulnerable to heavy rain events. According to Dominion’s own testing, groundwater monitoring wells near these ponds show elevated levels of dangerous contaminants like arsenic, lead, and radium, suggesting that these contaminants are leaking from Dominion’s ponds and could be moving off-site.

Dominion has proposed to cap these ponds in place, trapping nearby communities in the status quo: contaminated groundwater. We need clean closure — a permanent solution that safely recycles what we can and locks the rest away in fully-lined landfills that meet all of the new standards. When it comes to clean water, our communities deserve no less.

Clean Water and Conservation Funding

Communities across Virginia are making plans for how our state will meet its Chesapeake Bay Cleanup goals by 2025 and protect water quality. To stay on track, we need to keep investing in the good work that our farmers and localities are doing to reduce pollution and conserve our natural resources. Strong, stable funding helps us plan for the long-term and put in place the best management practices that will provide clean water for future generations.

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New North Bank Trail Work Starts Jan. 19

One of the most exciting trail-building projects in recent memory is officially a go, and there’s now a volunteer work day scheduled to kick it off.

I spoke with city trails manager, Mike Burton, yesterday about the recently-delayed North Bank Trail project — the new single track connection linking the trail running behind Maymont to where it heads east at the Texas Beach parking lot.

Burton said work by city staff clearing the corridor will begin any day in preparation for the first volunteer work day on Saturday, Jan. 19 (meet at Texas Beach parking lot at 9 a.m.).

He said the project is going to be sizable. “It’ll take all winter, maybe into the spring, maybe even into the summer.”

The trail segment is about a 1/3 of a mile long and will be relatively straight because the trail corridor is hemmed in by private property above and the old canal below. Also, Burton added, it will be slow going because of the nature of the terrain: “It ranges from quite steep to fairly steep.”

But the more people come out to help, the faster the work will go, and the sooner we’ll be adding a beautiful new section of singletrack to America’s finest urban trail system.

So, put Jan. 19 on your calendars!

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New “Co-Op Trail” Now Open at Pocahontas State Park

Representatives from Virginia State Parks, REI and the Friends of Pocahontas cut the ribbon a week ago on the brand new, hiking-specific “Co-Op Trail.” Largely funded by a $20,000 grant from REI Richmond, along with a $10,000 grant from Dominion Energy and $5,000 from Altria, the trail was built in response to public desire for more single-use trails.

The new Co-Op Trail trail marker at PSP.

Park Manager Josh Ellington explained: “Single use trails are a win-win. Hikers don’t have to worry about mountain bikers zipping by them, and bikers can ride freely without hikers on the trail.”

The Co-Op Trail contributes to the approximately 10 miles of hiking-only trails in the park — with more on the way.

Richmond REI Store Manager, Grant Smith, presented Friends of Pocahontas State Park member Jeff Samuels with a $20,000 check back on July 4 of this year for the kickoff of trail building. The trail’s name is a tip of the hat to REI, famously a consumer cooperative, and representative of how the trail came together and who it benefits — funded by multiple sponsors, built by volunteer labor, and a win-win for bikers and hikers alike.

Samuels, Director of Hiking Trails with the Friends of Pocahontas, expressed his gratitude to the volunteers, Virginia State Parks staff, and organized working groups from Altria who poured hours of labor into carving out the new trail that traverses the north shore of Swift Creek Lake and features wetlands, old growth forest and plenty of wildlife viewing opportunities.

Ellington who has been Park Manager at Pocahontas since 2015, has helped facilitate a dramatic increase in visitation through continued development of the park’s flourishing trail system including the mountain-biking specific Swift Creek Trail system, which formally opened in October. The park is renowned for some of the best mountain biking trails in the state.

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Cabins and Solitude at Virginia State Parks

Cabin 6 at Bear Creek lake SP. Credit: Va. State Parks

If you don’t subscribe to the Virginia State Parks e-newsletter, you’re missing out. Example: Today’s blast included two winter-themed items by writer Shellie Anne that made me want to pack the car and hit the road immediately. The first was a piece entitled “5 Favorite Cozy Cabins,” and a couple of pictures were all I needed to start itching for a road trip . Featured were parks like Hungry Mother and Douthat in the western part of the state, but also Bear Creek Lake, which is less than an hour drive from downtown RVA.

The second piece highlighted “5 Peaceful Primitive Campgrounds” in the state parks system. It too included a park — Powhatan State Park along the James River — that is less than and hour away for the vast majority of Central Virginians.

Click the links above to read more about these beautiful destinations that deserve a little more wintertime love. But be forewarned, you might be getting out the credit card before you’ve finished reading!

Canoe-in camping at Powhatan State Park. Credit: Va. State Parks


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