In the Olympics, the athletes from around the globe compete at the highest level to represent their countries in the hopes of brining home a gold medal. This is among the greatest achievements possible in athletic competition. In the Virginia world of conservation, we also have a distinguished awards program that recognizes exceptional environmental and conservation programs and projects. Sponsored annually by the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) and Department of Conservation and Recreation, this program recognizes successful and innovative efforts that improve Virginia’s environment. There are four broad categories of awards: Sustainability, Environmental Project, Land Conservation and implementation of the Virginia Outdoors Plan.

Friends of the Rappahannock is excited to offer congratulations to our partners at Fauquier County Parks and Recreation and the Coastal Virginia Ecotourism Alliance for both being awarded gold medals through the Governor’s Environmental Excellence Awards program! Both organizations were presented gold awards at the 2022 Environment Virginia Symposium on March 29, 2022 in recognition of their partnership driven public access and recreation programs which support the implementation of the Virginia Outdoors Plan. Both of these programs make a huge impact on the Rappahannock River and our local communities who love to enjoy the outdoors.

Award Overviews:

Coastal Virginia Ecotourism Alliance: Virginia Water Trail

In 2017, the Virginia Coastal Zone Management Program (CZM) supported the development of the Virginia Water Trails, managed by the Coastal Virginia Ecotourism Alliance (CVEA). The CVEA is a collaboration of the Northern Neck Planning District Commission (PDC), Middle Peninsula PDC, PlanRVA, Virginia Oyster Trail, Virginia Tourism Corporation and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration/CZM, led by the Accomack-Northampton PDC that connects locals and visitors to world-class ecotourism destinations. CVEA has been standardizing the look and feel of water access points throughout eastern Virginia and created the Virginia Water Trails website. The site provides a unified platform for each region to share its unique water experiences with visitors and residents, and co-promotes on-shore activities of the Virginia Oyster Trail. The site shares information about water activities in a mapping-application and an events calendar, and includes safety tips and links to trip planning services.

CVEA also promotes and features the Virginia Certified EcoTour Guide Course on the Virginia Water Trails website to increase ecotourism in the Commonwealth. Site visitors can find certified EcoTour Guides and learn how to become certified themselves. The certification program trains future guides about the wildlife and habitats of Virginia, increases outdoor recreation opportunities, and promotes economic development and collaboration throughout the Virginia coastal region. Two Friends of the Rappahannock staff recently completed this training and currently offer a variety of guided paddling trips and other interpretive outdoor experiences! More than 75 guides have been certified to date.

Since ecotourism is reliant on healthy coastal waters, CVEA also provides educational information on the website and through interpretative signage on sites about coastal habitats, ecosystem services the habitats provide, and actions people can take to protect those resources. CVEA deliberately designed the Virginia Water Trails so that additional PDCs can join in the future – like PlanRVA – which ensures waterways throughout Virginia can be protected and enjoyed by all.

Fauquier County Parks and Recreation: Upper Rappahannock River Water Trail

Since 2009, Friends of the Rappahannock has been working to expand public access across the river system. In the past several years we have devoted significant time and resources to developing new river access in the upper Rappahannock River region. Over the last few years, Fauquier County has spearheaded this collaborative project involving both governmental and non-governmental organizations established the Upper Rappahannock River Water Trail, the first public access to the Rappahannock in Fauquier County. Friends of the Rappahannock River (FOR), Piedmont Environmental Council and John Marshall Soil and Water Conservation District led led the planning and fundraising process that resulted in the creation of three public canoe and kayak launch sites along the state Scenic River: Riverside Preserve, Rector Track and Rogers Ford. Additionally, this project developed the first of its kind MOU with a local government and the Virginia Department of Wildlife Resources (DWR) to offer shared management of access sites to maximize results.

It would not have been possible for the county to establish these public access areas without the generosity and collaborative efforts of various stakeholders. In 2019, landowner Charles McDonald donated 196 acres, creating Riverside Preserve. The American Battlefield Trust purchased and donated Rector Tract for public use. Riverside Preserve and Rector Track are held in permanent conservation easements with the Virginia Outdoors Foundation, which will protect the historic and sensitive environmental resources of the areas while explicitly allowing for public access to the river. The public land of C.F. Phelps Wildlife Management Area contains the Rogers Ford access point. Multiple grants from the PATH Foundation, Northern Piedmont Community Foundation, and Virginia Environmental Endowment made these project possible!

Thanks to funding from the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation and support from John Marshall SWCD, both of these public access projects also included opportunities for us to restore riparian buffer habitat along the Rappahannock River at both the Rector Tract and Riverside Preserve.

At Friends of the Rappahannock, we could not be more pleased with the recognition of these two great programs. We hope you will join us in congratulating all of the staff and partners involved with getting these amazing programs and projects off the ground.

We will be hosting a ton of great opportunities to explore the outdoors including some great trips on both these new water trail systems!

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