Thursday, December 06, 2007

#67 An Extension of Rivanna State Scenic River Designation?

December 6, 2007

There’s a move afoot to extend Scenic River designation up past Woolen Mills– and the Department of Conservation and Recreation wants to see this stretch of the Rivanna from Charlottesville up to the South Fork Reservoir as part of a preliminary study. It seemed prudent to see if the low river water levels would permit such a trip, so a couple of weeks ago, we took an exploratory trip down the Rivanna.

State Scenic River designation was enacted in the early 1970s to provide a measure of protection for the rivers of Virginia. Minnie Lee and Harry McGehee from Fluvanna were largely responsible for establishing the Rivanna between Charlottesville and the James River as the first state scenic river in 1973. In 1988, the Moormans was also designated. Of the 505 designated miles in Virginia, the Rivanna now has 51 scenic river miles.

Scenic river designation constitutes official recognition of the river’s natural, scenic, historic, and recreational values. The designation doesn’t allow the state to control local land use – but does allow the locality to utilize the designation positively, and makes it more difficult to build dams along the given stretch.

We set up our shuttle, leaving one car at Riverview Park, and launch at the Route 29 bridge a half mile below the reservoir. We are pleasantly surprised that there seems to be enough water to paddle. Soon, the hum of Route 29 is in the distance, and we’re making our way past the SOCA fields on the left and Carrsbrook on the right. Within minutes, our first bald eagle of the day flies overhead and lands on a snag about 500 yards downstream. We float towards it, getting within 100 feet before it stretches its wings, drops slightly to gain lift and heads back upstream.

Both of us are scrambling to capture the bird on camera, but I am in conflict: should I go for the picture? Or trust my mind’s eye to capture the image that will reside along with all my other senses and build the sighting of this bird into a memory? The wind chill on our backs, with the noonday sun over the stern, low on its trajectory towards the shortest day. The canoe swinging under me in the slight current that draws us closer. My cold fingers blindly fumbling for my camera while I keep an eye on the bird as my heart accelerates. The browns and grays of trees on the bank. The leaves sailing down from tulip trees and sycamores onto the surface of the water.

Greedy, I try for the photo –– and the result is predictable: a large moving bird in a small frame against a clear blue sky that could be anywhere. I am left to wonder: what did I miss as I scrambled for the photo? I might have missed the shadow as the bird with wingspan of a fathom or more made its crossing to the other side above me. I might have missed clearly seeing its yellow legs, or its hooked beak, or the mud on its white breast, or the gleam in its eye. We paddle on – and not five minutes later, I see an immature bald, its dark plumage blending into the shadow on the bank. This time, I do not attempt a photo.

Sightings of bald eagles are common on the Rivanna – they are getting ready to nest this time of year, so perhaps our eagles today were part of the shuffle of territory. I have seen enough of the "scenic " to last me the rest of the four hours of paddling down to Charlottesville – and I have claimed on photo my record of the bald eagle sighting. Though I support the scenic river extension, I am struck by the irony of our human need to capture memories, name places, and protect with awkward, but necessary, means the places that are special to us – and simply home to the wild things.


emory said...

dear Leslie- I for one am glad you are driven to collect sights and sounds. Your presentation of the beauty of the Rivanna in words makes a difference. For the 99% of the people in Charlottesville/Albemarle who have not taken the time to travel from Walmart to the Long Street CVS via the riverine parkway, your column is a great gift.
The Rivanna will always "Be". But you raise awareness that there is a gem in Albemarle that has too long been neglected. (In 1919 the river was valued as a disposal means for raw sewage.) Via your writings and images a door is opened. There are natural vacations available minutes away. The door is open, the resource is here.
Yes, we name and label everything. By support of the Scenic River designation, Albemarle County and the City of Charlottesville signal that they have turned a corner, they no longer mentally categorize the river as "Drainage Ditch".

Jean said...

My husband and I recently moved to C'ville from Germany. Thank you for writing and sharing your knowledge about the area. I truely enjoy your blog.
Jean and Michael Murphy

Jean said...

Thanks for posting this! I just drove along Polo Grounds Road and saw, on a fence right beside the road what looked like an adult bald eagle. It had just picked up a small mammal from the middle of the road. I thought my eyes were deceiving me since I'd never really heard talk of bald eagles being around here. Googling "bald eagle albemarle virginia" led me here to confirm that what I saw was, indeed, a bald eagle. Wow! It's made my day!

Jean said...


OK, Then I'm not crazy.

I too saw what I thought were Bald Eagles. I still doubt my sightings. I figured that they were Turkey Vultures. Last week while walking Scruffy Marie Murphy, our pound hound, on Bentivar Drive, Scruffy's nose and tail shot up toward the sky. She spotted 2 huge fowls perched on our neighbors roof. They were soaking in the warmth of the sun. They preened and ruffled their feathers while Scruffy and I stood in amazement and watched. I hope our neigbour didn't think we were peeping toms!
The birds backs were facing us so I didn't really get a good view of their heads. Perhaps they were Turkey Vultures. I don't know.

I will definitely keep a lookout now that you have spotted Bald Eagles on Polo Ground Rd. How cool is that!

Thanks for your email.
Jean B. Murphy

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