Officials Float Down Rappahannock
Trip billed as opportunity for government leaders to learn more about the river.
Yesterday may have been sweltering, but that didn't stop two dozen local, state from gathering to experience the Rappahannock River up close and in person in an annual canoe trip organized by the city of Fredericksburg. Due to low water levels, the route had been changed so that floaters would not have to face the prospect of walking their canoes through rocky, watery terrain at the confluence of the Rapidan and Rappahannock rivers.
Instead, officials embarked down the river from a spot below the confluence, floating for about eight miles to a landing just outside the city. Along the way the group stopped to examine a large intake dam for a new Stafford County water reservoir. Some members of the group also took advantage of an opportunity to jump in the river via rope swing.
The trip is an opportunity for mutual government stakeholders in the Rappahannock to further appreciate the nature of the river so that when decisions affecting the river are brought up, officials will have a more intimate knowledge of the subject at hand.
This was Fredericksburg Ward 4 Councilo Bea Paolucci's first time canoeing on the Rappahannock, in fact it was the first time in a long time that she had been in a canoe. Paolucci paired up with Cate Huxtable, volunteer coordinator for Friends of the Rappahannock, to float down the river.
"You can read about it, but until you experience it you have no idea what a fabulous resource we have," said Paolucci. "It just takes your breath away."
Vice-Mayor Mary Katherine Greenlaw, also on her first trip down the river, agreed, noting that Fredericksburg conservation easement of 4,200 acres of riverside property upstream of the city has helped preserve the river's natural environment.
"You can't appreciate it until you see it," said Greenlaw. "The land probably looks the same as when the Indians lived here."
Also on the trip was John Odenkirk, a biologist with the Virginia Department of Game and Fisheries. This was his third time participating in the annual government river float, but as part of his job, he had been on the river hundreds of time before. Odenkirk says that it is vital for government officials to learn more about their natural resources.
"They have been charged with managing the public trust," said Odenkirk. "They may be detached from the natural resources they have in their backyard."
Odenkirk, with a rod and reel in hand, used the trip as an opportunity to conduct a small biological survey, noting the species of fish he was reeling in. Yesterday, he caught (and released) 13 fish across 5 different species, including largemouth bass, smallmouth bass, rock bass, red breast sunfish and a bluegill.
"A lot of these are fish which haven't been seen upstream of Embrey Dam for more than a century," said Odenkirk.
Fredericksburg Game Warden Tom Worthy said the river trip has another benefit for him: it's easier to explain policy to local officials who have experienced the river firsthand.
"When it comes to their city council meetings, they can relate to it because they've been out on it," said Worthy. "That's why I want them familiar with it. It takes a lot of legwork out of the process and they aren't just blindsided by river issues."
Ward 2 Councilor George Solley agreed. He had been on this trip a few times before. Yesterday he helped guide Greenlaw down the river.
"Management of natural resources is one of the most important things an elected leader can do," said Solley, noting that the city gets its drinking water from the river. "The importance of that is increasing, not decreasing."
Hal Wiggins, an environmental scientist with the regulatory branch of the Army Corps of Engineers in the Norfolk District, which includes Fredericksburg, was also on hand for the trip. Wiggins helps manage the waterway for the Army Corps of Engineers and has been working with city leaders to try and address a sediment problem in the river which has inspired calls for dredging of silt along the Fredericksburg waterfront.
"Today was a chance for the different decision makers to get to know each other, find out what we do and leaner about our overlapping juridisictions," said Wiggins. "We all enjoy this river, but it's extremely important that we protect it."