It was a great year to be outside thanks to new public access resources on the Rappahannock River Water Trail! Over the past five years, Friends of the Rappahannock (FOR) has been working alongside a group of partners to create new public river access sites along the upper Rappahannock River in Fauquier and Culpeper Counties. At FOR we see public access as a key part of advocating for, restoring, and educating about our Rappahannock River.
As the Education Manager of the Upper Rappahannock office, I have been lucky to seen firsthand the impact of the Upper Rappahannock Water Trail. Colleagues from countless organizations have made a tremendous investment to increase water access points to the Rappahannock River. These investments are not just in the wood, nails, and installation, but in the children and “almost grown ups” that are getting to feel, see, and experience their river in new ways.
This past year, we were excited to add another access site to the Rappahannock River Water Trail at Rogers Ford! This canoe and kayak boat launch is located on the Phelps Wildlife Management Area managed by the Virginia Department of Wildlife Resources (DWR). Huge thank you to the John Marshall SWCD and PATH Foundation for supporting this project!
The Rogers Ford access is the third new river access site on the Rappahannock River in Fauquier County. This site is downstream from Kelly’s Ford boat launch which is a comfortable 5.5 miles upstream. This incredible stretch of river is great to paddle, fish, go birding, and more. It’s not just us who think so! This year, the Governor’s office chose to award Fauquier County the Governor’s Environmental Excellence Gold Award for the Upper Rappahannock River Water Trail! This recognition and award is a testament to the hard work and collaboration that went into making these river access sites available to the public.
One way we help the next generation feel the river is to get them into a kayak and life jacket, which is what we did this year with the new boat launch at Fauquier Parks and Recreation’s Rector Tract in Remington. One of our favorite outdoor learning experiences is taking high school students out on the river. While paddling downriver, we take time to teach the watershed science the students will inevitably be tested on. However, the real lesson is in the silence of students being in the moment.
The observations. “Look at that tree.” “That section is shallow.” “The river bank is steep here.”
The questions. “Why is the river low?” ” “How deep can the river get?” “Have you ever seen a bald eagle here?”.
The latter is my favorite to answer, because I have regularly seen a bald eagle when we take students on the water from Rector Tract and I get to respond, “Just wait, you probably will too”.
None of this would be possible without public lands and river access.
The boat launches at these public access points provide more than access for people to get on the water. They provide accessibility to safely get close to the water. These structures offer a sense of familiarity to people seeking a closeness with the river and nature, but may not have the comfort and confidence to “jump into” an unfamiliar, muddy, or slippery setting.
During summer camps at Riverside Preserve there often is at least one child that wasn’t convinced the river was a great place to be. The river access at Riverside Preserve has wooden stairs down to the River. These offered a safe space to be close and engaged. When nature’s invitation was too great, kids could easily (and safely) run into the water with excitement.
We cannot guarantee it, but I imagine 15 years from now this kid telling the story of the time at camp when he watched a white-tailed deer slowly cross the Rappahannock River right in front of him and that this is one of the moments that inspired him to forever care for the river.
Written by Upper Rappahannock Education Manager April Harper and Deputy Director Bryan Hofmann.
Published Nov. 2022