environmental groups partner to restore historic riverfront in powhatan
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Environmental groups partner to restore historic riverfront in Powhatan

earth-newThrough a Virginia Department of Forestry grant, the James River Association is partnering with the Chesapeake Conservancy and the Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament to enhance and restore the riverfront along the James River at St. Francis/St. Emma, also known as Belmead, in Powhatan.

Belmead was originally built as a plantation home along the banks of the James River. In the late 1800s, the Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament transformed the property into two private schools for African American and Native American Indian students. Unfortunately, financial setbacks caused the schools to close in the 1970s and most of the historic buildings to be demolished. In 2011, this historic 2,265-acre property was listed by the National Trust for Historic Preservation as one of America’s 11 Most Endangered Historic Places.

The James River Association and the Virginia Outdoors Foundation both hold a conservation easement on 1,000 acres of land along the riverbank and throughout the years have worked closely with the Sisters to protect and enhance this historic property’s riverfront. Over the course of two workdays, April 4, 2015 and April 18, 2015, volunteers will plant more than 900 native Virginia trees along a half-mile of James River-front. Planting native trees will enhance the health of the river by reducing river bank erosion, filtering polluted runoff from nearby farmland, and improving wildlife habitat.

This project is a part of Envision the James, an initiative led by the Chesapeake Conservancy, the James River Association, and National Geographic Maps. Through this program, the groups work with local partners and communities to conserve important landscapes in the James River basin, improve wildlife habitat, restore river banks, protect important viewsheds, and promote the heritage, history, and use of the river. This planting project not only compliments the goals of Envision the James, but also enhances the organizations’ collective goals of improving the health of the James and ultimately the health of the Chesapeake Bay.

“Through Envision the James, the James River Association has worked closely with the Chesapeake Conservancy to create a vision for the future of the James River watershed,” said Bill Street, CEO for the James River Association. “Partnering on restoration efforts at historic Belmead allows us to engage volunteers to help make a collective impact on the river, as well as the Bay.”

“Through extensive community outreach, we heard that those living along the James River want to see improved wildlife habitat and water quality.” Joel Dunn, executive director, Chesapeake Conservancy, said. “We are excited to be able to work toward making their vision a reality through this project with the James River Association and the Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament. Paddlers along the Captain John Smith Chesapeake National Historic Trail will also benefit from the enhanced view with the new plantings. We hope to see many volunteers on April 4th and 18th.”

For more information or to find out how you can volunteer, visit www.jamesriverassociation.org or contact Amber Ellis, Watershed Restoration Associate, at (804) 788-8811, ext. 205 or [email protected]. And learn more about Envision the James and how you can get involved at www. EnvisiontheJames.org.

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