This summer, for the 7th time, the James River Association’s Education team had the privilege of leading three phenomenal groups of high school students and teachers on week-long James River Expeditions. Twenty-six ambitious high schoolers and three teachers from across Virginia traveled over 200 miles, learning, sightseeing, and making friends along the way.

Our Lower James cohort kicked off their trip and this year’s program on June 25, departing Dutch Gap and setting out for the Chesapeake. As they made their way downstream, students were able to tour Presquile National Wildlife Refuge, Westover Plantation, Fort Pocahontas, and Historic Jamestowne. They met with engineers, biologists, historians, archaeologists, and landowners offering an array of perspectives on issues affecting the James River. The trip, of course, wasn’t all business; cookouts, pools, and Disney singalongs were all part of our voyage downstream. A big thank you to the Erdas, Karla Smith, and a host of friends and partners for their assistance on the river.


The Expedition Program’s second leg began high in the Appalachians on July 9. Ten students navigated downstream through the Ridge and Valley and James River Gorge. On the way they explored the quaint river town of Buchanan, stopped by Natural Bridge State Park, and conquered the Class III rapids at Balcony Falls. Soccer, stars, and stories were among the many highlights of the trip. Special thanks to Jimmy Lewis, a longtime James River Association partner and volunteer, for his generous hospitality, to Twin River Outfitters and Wilderness Canoe Company, and to partners in Buchanan and at Natural Bridge State Park for enriching our trip on the way to Snowden. One student said, “Since the trip, I feel more comfortable in the river, more comfortable with who I am, and more comfortable with what I’m doing.” We’re honored by such amazing feedback from incredible students.

The final Expedition began just downstream of Lynchburg on July 16 at Rockcliffe Farm and Retreat, a beautiful parcel of riverfront owned by Hugh and Joan Rockwell. This amazing spot is well worth a trip, if you’re ever looking for a rustic getaway! At James River State Park, we learned about the history of flooding on the James River and the design and construction of the Kanawha Canal. Further downstream, we ditched the canoes and hitched a ride on a batteau for an authentic historical experience through Seven Islands. Additional thank yous are owed to Randy Waycaster and Mike Spessard for their help with lodging and transportation.

Like so many of our programs, this summer’s Expeditions would not have been possible without the hard work and generosity of others. Funding was made possible by the Norfolk Southern Foundation and several Richmond-area foundations.

Thank you to our partners upstream and down for enabling us to embark on our incredible annual journey; we couldn’t do it without your support! On behalf of the James River Expedition team, our three guest teachers, and the twenty-six promising young high schoolers whom we were fortunate to meet, thank you for such a transformative experience!