BOTETOURT – The Upper James River Water Trail is making its internet debut this week—coincidentally exactly 25 years after part of it in Botetourt was designated a Virginia Scenic River.
The water trail, the result of nearly two years of planning by the Botetourt Tourism Department and the Upper James River Blueway Committee, is the latest effort to draw tourists and their dollars to Botetourt County; and to make Botetourt a destination rather than a just a place visitors pass through in their travels.
Along with the website, the Tourism Department is about ready to distribute some of the 20,000 Upper James River Water Trail brochures it had printed to visitors’ centers and other venues across the Commonwealth. The Upper James River Water Trail brochures provide the same sort of information as the website.
The water trail was conceived as a blueway, which the website says “is a small boat or paddling route along a waterway that combines recreation and environmental awareness while linking communities and land-based attractions such as historic sites and parks.”
The Upper James River Water Trail is also an effort to encourage residents to experience the beauty and history of one of the county’s greatest natural treasures.
Tourism Director Kevin Costello said the new website allows potential visitors to do research during their trip-planning phase, and to tell residents how they, too, can enjoy the James River.
This is part of the first phase of the Upper James River Water Trail.
Costello also has applied for grant funding for informational kiosks and improvements at three public boat landings—at the Horseshoe Bend (Narrow Passage) boat launch, at the Springwood launch and at the Buchanan launch.
If approved, the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) grant would pay for improvements to the parking areas at the three sites, adding a concrete boat slide at the Springwood location, and adding the permanent informational kiosks to all three locations.
The public access sites are owned by the Department of Game and Inland Fisheries, which is cooperating with the county on the water trail effort.
Costello’s also soliciting sponsorships for kiosks at the other access points, and anyone interested can contact him at the Tourism Office at 473-1167.
Visitors to the Upper James River Water Trail website will find all kinds of information about the Upper James and resources locals and visitors may need before, during or after a trip on the river.
The site has links to maps of the river, water gauges that give water levels and what those water levels mean; there’s a FAQ with “frequently asked questions,” and information about what to expect so “they can be intelligent visitors,” Costello said.
The maps provide general and detailed information about the access points and canoeing or kayaking on the river.
The website can also steer visitors toward outfitters or other services they might need. The website map shows the six public access points on the Upper James in Botetourt, the Class I and II rapids on the river and where there’s food, lodging and fuel.
The Planning a Trip section provides visitors with information about what to bring, details about where the access points are, suggested itineraries, links to outfitters, about fishing on the James, camping, specific lodging information, specific dining information in Buchanan and Eagle Rock and other attractions, which includes information about the Botetourt Wine Trail.
A link to Community lists upcoming events in Botetourt.
There’s also a link to “Ask an Expert,” where site visitors can email questions about trips on the Upper James to an experienced river guide and outfitter.
Visitors to the site can also sign up for email updates about the water trail and ask for more information about visiting Botetourt.
Sixteen miles of the James River in Botetourt is designated a Virginia Scenic River. That was the result of local efforts to thwart a small hydro-electric project proposed by a Maryland developer in 1984. During the 1985 General Assembly session, local legislators had convinced their brethren to unanimously declare the section of the James between Eagle Rock and Springwood a Scenic River.
The developer wanted to build a 16-foot dam on an old James River and Kanawha Canal dam and lock site near Salt Peter Cave to generate electricity.
Local opposition was strong, and was joined by regional and state groups that opposed blocking the free-flowing river.
The Scenic designation requires the General Assembly approve any dam construction on a section of Scenic River.
Also, incidentally, 2010 is the 40th anniversary of the legislation establishing Virginia Scenic Rivers.
Fish Virginia First
Along with the new water trail marketing effort, the Upper James in Botetourt is getting a boost from a regional effort that’s promoting fishing in Virginia.
Costello now chairs the Fish Virginia First committee that covers 36 communities from far Southwest Virginia east to Halifax County and north to the Alleghany Highlands.
The committee established a website last year that promotes fishing in Western, Southwestern, Central and Southside Virginia. The committee also is putting together a magazine-type guide to fishing in those areas; and a 30-minute TV show it hopes to see aired on some of the outdoor television channels and shows. The show will feature professional anglers John Crews of Salem and David Dudley who will be fishing for bass, trout, muskie and other species.
Fish Virginia First’s website allows each participating community to highlight its fishing assets. The Upper James and two special regulation trout streams, North Creek and Roaring Run, are featured from Botetourt.
Funding for Fish Virginia First came through tobacco settlement and Virginia Travel Corp. grants.
Costello said Fish Virginia First provides another link to the new Upper James River Water Trail, too.
“There’s plenty of different experiences for people of different levels of (fishing) experience,” Costello said of the Fish Virginia First website.