Each year, the James River Association’s most dedicated group of volunteers, the RiverRats, gather for an annual retreat to recap the year, brainstorm new ideas, and recharge after a busy season of river patrols and action projects. 17 citizen scientists and environmental stewards traveled from all corners of the watershed to Wilderness Adventure in New Castle, VA for our 7th annual Raft-Up. In 2017, RiverRats completed 140 patrols throughout the watershed, covered 707 river miles, and completed numerous projects to improve river health and access.
As RiverRats began to trickle in to our weekend home on Friday evening, November 3, one thing became clear: it wouldn’t be a Raft-Up without rain! Luckily, RiverRats are a tough bunch and Raft-Up 2017 went off without a hitch. After a hearty breakfast, we kicked off Saturday morning by welcoming our first-time RiverRats and recapping our just-released 2017 State of the James report. RiverRats were encouraged to hear that we have increased our river health to 62%. All of their hard work is paying off! Next, Dr. Don Orth from Virginia Tech University shared his research on blue catfish in the Chesapeake Bay, diving into detail on diets and size distribution. His talk provided an interesting perspective on ecosystem restoration and invader removal. We also heard updates from RiverRats who have been working hard on action projects this year, including Joe Seiffert, who recently completed a project to build a new canoe launch at Hollins Mill Park in Lynchburg and John Bragg, who is working with city officials to build a new primitive campsite at Lawrence Lewis, Jr. Park for boaters and cyclists to enjoy.
After lunch, nine RiverRats braved the weather and hopped in canoes for a paddle down Craig Creek, a tributary of the James. The rain held out just long enough for a great afternoon to enjoy peak fall foliage in the Blue Ridge Mountains! We regrouped before dinner to spend some time brainstorming ideas for regional action projects for the coming year. Stay tuned for upcoming action projects to expand benthic macroinvertebrate monitoring projects, raise trout and shad as educational tools in schools, and getting river health tips and info into local papers!
Local Charlottesville bluegrass band Rockfish Gap closed out the night with some great tunes, even taking river-themed requests from the audience! As our 2017 RiverRat season winds down, we are looking towards 2018 with fresh energy to build on the collaboration and dedication our volunteers bring. We can’t wait to see what 2018 has in store for our RiverRat community!