A good group supporting the river

Published 10:52 pm Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Last week, we wrote of the necessity for volunteer organizations to help our overworked government agencies.

This week, let’s investigate a vital one with the goals of cleaning up our waters, creating more water access for the citizens, and expanding the areas of the river that can be used for crabbing and growing oysters.

We speak of the Nansemond River Preservation Alliance.

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Formed in 2010 in conjunction with the Suffolk River Heritage organization, the NRPA has in four years grown into a formidable group — well funded and well attended.

The NRPA is achieving major impacts for the people and waters of Suffolk. Primarily it has called attention to the declining state of the river.

The Nansemond is seriously ill. Don’t swim in it, and don’t wade in it, at least its upper half. Even at its mouth, Bennett’s Creek and Knotts Creek are banned for shellfishing.

NRPA has dozens of volunteers who sample the water for E. coli, coliform bacteria, nitrogen and potassium every month. They work in concert with the Department of Health, primarily, but the Department of Environmental Quality is also involved, and through them on to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

But thankfully the NRPA is not just a watchdog group focusing on negatives; it is working to make positive changes.

Members have created information packets for shoreline property owners and has distributed them to waterfront landowners. They have created demonstrator buffer zone gardens at Sleepy Hole (in concert with Suffolk Parks and Recreation) and at Bennett’s Creek Park (in concert with Keurig Green Mountain and American Rivers).

These zones show the trees, shrubs, plants and grasses that can be planted to control erosion and toxic runoff.

NRPA is behind the parks and recreation effort to increase kayak and canoe access to the river, both downtown at Constant’s Wharf and at Sleepy Hole Park.

The organization is educating Suffolk’s youth about the condition of the river, about opportunities afforded and about the possible environmental future — to the tune of 4,000 students to date.

More than 400 volunteers have thus far aided their work. They partner with about 20 community and environmental groups, such as the Master Gardeners, the Master Naturalists, the Izaak Walton league, the Nature Conservancy and The Rotary Clubs of Downtown and North Suffolk.

They have enlisted as partners and financial donors many corporations, such as BASF, Birdsong Corp., Duke Auto, Keurig, Mike Duman Auto, the Suffolk Foundation and many others.

NRPA does good work. Its members are tireless. They are well organized. Their major leaders are Capt. Steven Barnum, Elizabeth Taraski, John Wass and James Rivers.

They are dedicated to improving the Nansemond River into a healthy, productive, attractive asset for the city of Suffolk — for local citizens as well as tourists.

Our hats are off to them. They have our gratitude and respect.

On a related note, on Sept. 28, the Sierra Club Candidate Forum will ask questions of political candidates about their views of cleaning the river, access, and so forth. The program runs from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. at King’s Fork Middle School.

On Nov. 5, there be a cleaning of the downtown waterfront conducted by the Isaak Walton League.

And on Nov. 19, the NRPA will have another riverfront buffer volunteer day.

Susan and Bradford “Biff” Andrews are retired teachers and master naturalists who have been outdoor people all their lives, exploring and enjoying the woods, swamps, rivers and beaches throughout the region for many years. Email them at b.andrews22@live.com.