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For Love of Nature: Progress continues on the James
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For Love of Nature: Progress continues on the James

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Last year required us all to find creative ways to keep moving in a positive direction, either outdoors or online.

The James River Association did both. In a year-end letter to members, JRA CEO Bill Street shared some of the successes of 2020.

First, it pays to remember the James River is the largest river in the state. Its watershed covers 10,000 square miles and is home to one-third of all Virginians, providing drinking water and recreation and aiding industry.

The Upper James Watershed begins in Alleghany County and ends above Lynchburg. The Middle James runs from Lynchburg to the Fall Line in Richmond, while the Lower James stretches to the Chesapeake Bay.

With help from volunteers, the JRA planted 40,317 trees across more than 103 acres in the Middle James watershed to slow runoff into the river.

They also installed 75 linear feet of living shorelines in the Lower James. Living shorelines use natural materials to help stabilize eroding banks. Examples include coir logs made of fiber that decompose over time as plants grow and oyster castles, artificial reefs that provide places for oysters to colonize.

JRA’s environmental education program reached a record 13,000 students, 75% of them through newly developed virtual programs.

JRA recruited 195 homeowners to take the River Hero Home pledge to reduce stormwater runoff by making changes in their backyards, including the installation of rain barrels and native plants and trees to retain water.

The Advocacy Team successfully lobbied the General Assembly to retain nearly $200 million in clean water and land conservation funding, making it one of the top five largest appropriations in the last 20 years.

The organization gave 200 free paddle trips to exhausted hospital workers across the watershed to provide solace on the water through the James River Relief Program.

Lots of other work was accomplished as well. Through its River Rat Program, volunteers continued to monitor water quality, pick up trash and report problems along the river.

In late October, the James River Association, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Department of Wildlife Resources released more than 5,500 freshwater mussels into the James River in downtown Richmond and 611 yellow lampmussels in Lynchburg.

Restoring populations of freshwater mussels is critical because each mussel can filter between 10 and 20 gallons of water per day, helping to improve water quality by removing algae, bacteria and other small particles.

The mussels were carefully placed on the river bottom by divers and tagged with tiny markers that allow scientists to collect data on their growth and survival.

Once prevalent in the James River, today freshwater mussels are imperiled due to pollution, dams and loss of habitat. Virginia is home to 81 freshwater mussel species, 41 of which are considered endangered or threatened. To learn more, visit www.thejamesriver.org.

Shannon Brennan is a Central Virginia Master Naturalist, a Lynchburg Tree Steward and a volunteer for the Natural Bridge Appalachian Trail Club and the James River Association. She can be reached at shannonw481@gmail.com.

Shannon Brennan is a Central Virginia Master Naturalist, a Lynchburg Tree Steward and a volunteer for the Natural Bridge Appalachian Trail Club and the James River Association. She can be reached at shannonw481@gmail.com.

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