Canoe Launch Improves River Access, Reduces Bank Erosion

Written by: Chloe Sikora FOR Intern and Student at Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University

Seven volunteers huddled underneath a tarp shielding them from pouring rain. Without complaint, they picked up their shovels and finished digging the last three steps to complete the first sustainable public access canoe launch on the Rappahannock River, near its confluence with the Rapidan River.

The low-impact, “soft” canoe launch was created by recent high school graduate Mary Jane Titus, known by many as M.J.,  to earn a Girl Scout Gold Award. She partnered with a variety of organizations and volunteers to complete the project. With a year of planning and three days dedicated to actual construction, the canoe launch was completed in late July. 

"It’s hard to achieve, but it is the highest honor a Girl Scout can receive. Also, I love canoeing and kayaking, so for such a highly-esteemed award, I wanted it to be something that would help people with the same passion," said M.J.

Before the completed launch, there was a mud slide at the site, where boaters and anglers would climb up and down the bank in order to access the river. Serious erosion was caused by the way boaters would use vines and roots to hoist themselves and their boats out of the river. In order to protect the bank, M.J.’s plan was to build steps and a launch area to provide easier access to the river and eliminate that erosion.

"This is a public boat launch for people putting in and taking out of the river, but it is inaccessible to vehicles. If people want to use the launch, they will have use other means of boat transportation, such as a canoe or kayak dolly," said Officer Lee Sillitoe, watershed property manager for the City of Fredericksburg.

The launch is located at the end of the Culpeper side of Richards Ferry Road (Route 619), just upstream from the confluence. A gate across the road halts traffic about an eighth of a mile from the river. Vehicles will have to be parked at the gate and boats transported from there. The Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries (VDGIF) has paved the road between the closed gate and the launch for easier access, said Sillitoe.

The project included a variety of representatives from other organizations, each playing unique roles in the completion of the project. Bryan Hofmann, programs manager from Friends of the Rappahannock (FOR), applied and received grant funding and charitable donations for materials, provided equipment and other tools, and mentored the Girl Scout throughout the planning process. Sillitoe provided access to the site and  additional support during the project installation. Brad Mawyer, zone maintenance supervisor from VDGIF, provided the technical design for the canoe launch and supervised the installation.

Hofmann gave thanks to the volunteers and the project’s principal funders, including the Home Depot Foundation, L.L. Bean for an ACA Community Fostered Stewardship Grant, FOR, and the City of Fredericksburg.