A worthwhile expedition

Published 9:25 pm Monday, July 30, 2012

Most of the people who visit Suffolk don’t have to work quite as hard to do so as the participants of the James River Expedition, who stopped for the night in Eclipse last week on their way to conclude a trip that had started more than 340 miles away in the Appalachian Mountains near the West Virginia border.

For the students and their teachers who took the final leg of the expedition, the payoff would come when they paddled their canoes along the James River to Fort Monroe, where the mighty river empties into the Chesapeake Bay. Those students — from high schools in Botetourt, Henrico and Hopewell — had paddled from Richmond to arrive in Suffolk on Friday and would head out Saturday morning for their final stop at the mouth of the river. Other students had paddled two earlier legs of the trip, taking in sights along the Upper James from Iron Gate to Lynchburg and along the Middle James from Lynchburg to Richmond’s rapids.

Sponsored in part by The Dominion Foundation, the charitable giving arm of Dominion Power, this was the second year of the expedition, which is organized by the James River Association, whose mission, according to its website, is to “provide a voice for the river and take action to promote conservation and responsible stewardship of its natural resources.” The expedition, which gave 36 students and nine teachers representing nine different schools from the James River watershed a chance to see the river from a perspective most had never had on it, is one inventive way the organization has found to accomplish that mission.

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Most of those participants who stopped for the night in Eclipse on Friday probably had never seen a crab boat, much less baited a crab pot. While visiting the area, however, they did both, and in the process they learned about the special challenges facing those who love the rivers in Hampton Roads for their beauty, their recreational offerings and even their financial provision. Here, as in other places the students and their teachers stopped along the way, they learned about the ecological challenges faced along the James River and its tributaries, including the beautiful-but-damaged Nansemond River.

Those who participated in the expedition benefitted from a rare opportunity to do something that was at once meaningful, memorable and fun with a portion of their summer. The lessons they learned and the memories they forged should help ensure that they cherish the James River and all of Virginia’s waterways, along with the people who depend on them. It’s hard to ask for more than that from a summer vacation.