A big part of JRA’s mission is to educate the denizens of the James River watershed about the value of the river in their everyday lives. JRA educated over 20,000 students during its 2022-2023 school year over a total of five different sites in the watershed, including at Presquile National Wildlife Refuge through a special permit with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

JRA has partnered with Henrico County Public Schools on an ambitious project – giving every 4th grader in the county a chance to connect with nature at Presquile National Wildlife Refuge. JRA has planned a total of 94 trips this school year to bring every Henrico 4th grade class outdoors to experience life on the James! Each trip has a series of activities students experience on their visit to the Refuge:

Pontoon Boat Fish Trawl

Students help JRA staff deploy and pull up a 40 foot long trawl net to catch fish from the bottom of the James. They then categorize the species to check the biodiversity of the James River. Students’ favorite part of the trawl? They get to touch and hold the fish that they catch!

Nature Hike

Presquile is home to miles of maintained paths. Students take a short walk around the Refuge, identifying species as either native (originally from this region), nonnative (introduced by human activities), or invasive (a nonnative pest). 

Watershed Map 

What is a watershed? Students answer this question, and find out how nearby states affect the water quality of the Chesapeake Bay, by racing each other to label a watershed map. You can find out more about your watershed from this Explorer Blog post from February 2023!

How can you experience a trip like the one Henrico 4th graders are doing at Presquile? Here’s some ways to recreate a field trip in your own time:

  1. Visit Belle Isle: Belle Isle is another island on the James River open to the public as part of the Richmond Public Parks system. On Belle Isle, you can encounter many of the same species of native (and non-native) organisms that you’d find at Presquile. Read the many interpretive signs around the park to learn more about the history and wildlife of the region!
  2. Volunteer with JRA: check out the volunteer opportunities available at JRA! You can help plant trees to build riparian buffers, record water quality, or even adopt a section of the James to monitor as a River Rat. What better way to experience the outdoor wonders of the James than to help restore its natural beauty? Some of our trained volunteers even help chaperone the trips to Presquile!
  3. Take a trip with JRA: Have you ever wanted to paddle the James with an experienced guide, or see a mighty sturgeon leap just a few feet from your boat? JRA offers open trips to the public on select days throughout the year. Our Connect to the James programs offer the public an opportunity to experience the James up close with staff from JRA. Check back in the Spring and Fall frequently – many trips fill up quickly, and new trips are added as the season progresses!