Greg Velzy, a Friends of the James River Park System Board Member, recently asked us to share an item on our social media channels. USA Today is compiling another of their “Best of” lists, and the James River is up for the “Best Urban Kayaking Spot”.
We’re not certain how Greg found the time to do this, as he’s one of our busiest members. About a year ago, he was one of our featured ParkStars. He’s the longest serving Board Member of the James River Outdoor Coalition. He’s Chair of the Falls of the James Scenic River Advisory Committee, and a member of the James River Advisory Council.
We’re certain that part of Greg’s busy schedule is driven by his love of the James River and outdoor adventure, but perhaps there’s something more?
The James River is intricately tied to the commerce and prosperity of Richmond. Before we were even a city, Native Americans and early settlers would float the flatwaters from inland Virginia and meet the rapids at the Fall Line. Others would paddle the brackish waters of the Chesapeake Bay upstream, and here in the middle, one group would trade with the other. Those weary travelers needed lodging, food, and a flagon of mead. They needed repairs to their boats and barges and powder for their muskets, and a thriving service industry rose up to take their money.
The James River was our superhighway, brought food with its fishes, and helped bring electric lights to Richmond. It also, unfortunately, served as our trash can.
For a long while, a company called Allied Chemical operated a plant on the James River in Hopewell. One of their signature products was an insecticide called “kepone”. They made as much as 6,000 pounds of it every day. When they needed to clean something or discard some waste, they dumped it directly into the river, and with that detritus, went kepone. This chemical fell to the bottom of the James, was ingested by fish, and began to sicken people. When folks began complaining and the Virginia Department of Health began investigating in 1975, people realized that we had a serious problem on our hands.
Allied shut down their plant and paid over $13 million in fines. Fishing was banned in most of the James. It became generally understood that the James was something to be seen but not enjoyed.
This was when people in Richmond realized what an invaluable asset the James River and its environment really is.
By 2012, Outside Magazine had named Richmond the Best River Town in America. The International River Foundation, which champions integrated river basin management, awarded the James River and its stewards the 2019 Thiess International River Prize for the work done to improve the health of our city’s jewel. Last year, American Rivers listed Richmond as one of our nation’s Ten Best River Towns.
In 2017, some very smart people at VCU decided to take a deeper look at how valuable the James River is to Richmond. Their study, “Economic Impact of the James River Park System”, evaluated the impacts of tourism, direct use, health, community cohesion, clean water, and clean air. A survey of local businesses showed that they anticipated a 32.7% loss in revenue should the Park System close. A single-family home was worth an extra $6.79 for every foot closer it was to the Park. For every dollar budgeted to the Park, visitors spend over $60. When they did their study, around 1.4 million people visited the James River Park System. They generated over $33.5 million in tourist-related spending.
Last year, almost 2 million visited the James River Park System.
We love the Park because of its beauty, the opportunity it affords for adventure, and what it teaches us.
In dollars and cents, it’s as valuable as gold.
* cover image via Passages Adventure Camp