James River Leadership Expeditions


The James River Leadership Expeditions (JRLE) is a year-long leadership program for all high school students who are interested in advocating for the future of the James River. The goal of JRLE is to engage, develop, train, inspire, and help prepare participants in taking personal and community-wide action to address issues facing the James River. The JRLE is one of the best learning experiences for young people, as traveling to an entirely new part of Virginia pushes the boundaries of our comfort zones, both mentally and physically.

As part of JRLE, students commit to helping communities realize the benefits of a healthy James River and support protecting the river with a community capstone project. By joining JRLE, participants get the chance to take on an exciting year-long challenge where they develop leadership skills and working knowledge that will help them in higher education and/or their career.


For more information

If your group or organization would like more information about the James River Leadership Expeditions please contact our staff at expeditions@thejamesriver.org.

During the James River Leadership Expeditions, the James River Association education staff provides expert instruction on paddling and camping skills, teambuilding, wildlife identification, water quality monitoring, history, river ecology, and policy. The safety of the trip participants is a top priority; staff who manage the program are trained in canoe instruction, Wilderness First Aid, and CPR.

If selected, a deposit of $200 will be requested to secure a position in the program; all supplies, gear, food, training, and instruction are included. This fee can be waived or reduced if it prevents participation. 

The James River Leadership Expeditions gives students the opportunity to bond with other students that share their passion for the environment and develop their network of support. They will also meet environmental professionals with different backgrounds and knowledge to build a network of contacts when applying for schools, jobs, and so much more. They will learn about environmental careers and programs they can pursue. The students will also learn about the history, wildlife, and water quality of the James River. The JRLE is an immersive, hands-on learning experience that will be remembered for a lifetime.

Capstone Projects:

As the culminating part of the JRLE experience, participants create a leadership-focused environmental capstone project. The focus of each project is to learn leadership skills while helping the environment. Using ideas gained in their summer expeditions, students choose a problem that impacts the health of the James River watershed and create a solution to implement during the program’s year. Each time JRLE meets throughout the year’s four sessions, students collaborate on their capstone ideas and gain valuable insight from their peers and JRA mentors. Consistent check-ins and access to JRA knowledge helps students to be successful in their chosen project.

At the end of the JRLE experience, students present their capstone projects to a panel of peers and experts. Past capstone projects have included leading community cleanup projects, installing permanent erosion control solutions, teaching classroom environmental lessons, and creating habitats for endangered species.

“If I could tell students one thing, it’s that you will never experience something like this again. The James River Association is offering an incredible experience that I wouldn’t trade for the world. To spend one week on the James River, technology-free, with good company, is something very hard to find. When the opportunity presents itself, take it.”

Nash McDowell


2024-2025 Program Timeline

January 1st, 2024: Applications open
April 15th, 2024: Application period ends
April 15th, 2024: Applicants informed of their acceptance
late May: Orientation at JRA’s office in downtown Richmond

Session 1:

Upper expedition: 6/24/24 – 6/28/24
Middle expedition: 7/15/24 – 7/19/24
Lower expedition: 7/29/24 – 8/2/24

Session 2:
Saturday, November 9th to Sunday, November 10th 2024 – James River Ecology School – Overnight at Presquile National Wildlife Refuge in Chesterfield

Session 3:
Saturday, January 18th 2025 —  James A. Buzzard River Education Center, Richmond 

Session 4:
Saturday, May 3rd 2025 — James A Buzzard River Education Center, Richmond 

James River Leadership Expeditions Application

2024-2025 Application period opens in January 2024

What is needed for the application:

  • Student Contact Information
  • 300 Word Essay
  • 5 Short Answer Questions
  • 2 Teacher/Mentor Letters of Recommendation

New Year – New Expedition!

It's a new year and with that comes a new expedition season at the James River Association! If you are currently a rising 9th 10th or 11th grade student within the James River Watershed you can apply to join this year’s cohort of expedition participants! JRLE is a...

2023 Upper James River Leadership Expeditions

Monday, July 31st Buchanan, Virginia Today marks our first day on the Upper James River Expedition trip! We arrived in Buchanan, Virginia, ate lunch, and got to know each other. We then walked to a local church to learn more about the program and valuable leadership...

2023 Lower James River Leadership Expeditions

Monday, July 10th After many sad goodbyes with a few tears here and there, our introduction to the Lower James River Expedition began. First, we were introduced to the people we would be spending the next week with, and immediately began to make new friends. We then...

2023 Middle James River Leadership Expeditions

Monday, June 26th 10,000 steps and 5 miles later concluded our first day on the James River Leadership Expedition. We started the day with introductory games to get to learn our fellow peers that we will be with for the next week. Following the games, we took a one...

Information for Current 2023-2024 Participants

Session 1:
Middle Expedition: 6/26/23 – 6/30/23
Lower Expedition: 7/10/23 – 7/14/23
Upper Expedition: 7/31/23 – 8/4/23

Five-day, overnight expedition on the river. Session One is offered during the summer as three different week-long experiences. During Session One, JRLE removes barriers and allows for our youth to engage in new experiences that they may have not been exposed to before. With our education staff, youth are given unparalleled access to local culture and history.

Session 2: November 11th & 12th, 2023 (overnight) — Presquile NWR
Building Project Vision & Stewardship. In Session Two, students will have the opportunity to brainstorm community capstone projects.

Session 3: January 20th, 2024 — JRA Office, Richmond
Inspiring Our Commitment & Working Groups. We will review public speaking skills with demonstrations and games. We will be setting action plans for our capstone projects. We also will be conducting an example action project with the James River Park System.

Session 4: May 4th, 2024 —  Luck Company Headquarters in Goochland, Virginia
Leadership Launch and Environmental Symposium. In Session Four, students will celebrate all their achievements from the year with JRLE and present their capstone project to a panel of local experts.