Protecting America’s Founding River: James River Association

The James River Association has been a guardian and voice for Virginia’s historic James River since 1976…


kayakers on the James River
Kayakers on the James River (photo courtesy of Bill Draper)

Why the James River is Important

The James River has played a defining role in Virginia since before the first English colony of Jamestown was founded in 1607.

It’s headwaters begin in the Blue Ridge Mountains to the west. It travels 340 miles and is fed by 15,000 miles of tributaries before it empties into the Chesapeake Bay. It’s watershed covers 10,000 square miles.

Once one of America’s most polluted rivers, the James has seen remarkable improvement, thanks to environmental groups like the James River Association and concerned citizens statewide.

Today it’s key both economically (to the tune of $18.9 billion each year) and to provide safe, clean drinking water for 2.7 million Virginians.

The Work of the James River Association

The James River Association has worked tirelessly to promote the welfare of Virginia’s most important river. Their website is full of great information. Want a map? Want to find a camping spot? Interested in a river event? A paddle trip?

It’s all there. Safety resources, current weather and water conditions, fun events, ways they educate Virginia’s school children.

Jamie Brunkow is James Riverkeeper at the James River Association. He said:

“Fifty years ago, unchecked pollution from our cities, farms and industries led to the decline of water quality and destroyed populations of species that call Virginia home. In 1977 the James River had zero bald eagles. But that rock bottom was also a turning point for the river.”

That’s changed now. The cleaner river and watershed area means more park visitors, more boaters and paddlers, more hunters and anglers, higher seafood production for commercial use, and better drinking water.

kayaker on James River
Kayakers and canoeists enjoy a clean James River (photo courtesy of the James River Association)

How the James River Association Helps Average People Help

An important page on their website is: “Seven Simple Steps towards a healthy James River.” Any one or more of these Simple Steps can be taken by the average person who wants to help keep the James on its path to health:

  • Become a member to help strengthen the voice.
  • Prevent pollution at home (they give several suggestions).
  • Keep in touch with your elected officials.
  • Volunteer your time.
  • Go on river outings and bring your friends (this helps you value the river).
  • Help be eyes and ears on the river.
  • Be part of the self-directed trash clean-up program.

Jamie Brunkow adds: “It takes the involvement of communities up and down the James River to help protect water quality.”

The wonderful thing about these Simples Steps? They can be practiced by anyone living anywhere to help their own rivers and watershed areas, too.

Paddle Events on the James River

Since we’re a paddle company, we’re interested in how the James River Association helps paddlers. Besides advocating for cleaner, healthier water, the Association sponsors several paddle events each year:

  • Connect with the James events—interpretive paddles throughout the watershed from May through September.
  • The Great Return of the Atlantic Sturgeon—join staff members on this guided canoe program.
  • The Tire-Less James Project—one day each year when volunteers remove tires from the James. Bring your own canoe!
  • James River Expedition—Takes students from Virginia’s schools in the James River watershed on the summer paddling trip of their young lifetime. Three 6-day trips with different crews cover the entire 340 miles of the James. The kids—who must apply for these trips—learn about canoe tripping as well as environmental and social benefits of the river.
tires on a canoe
Pulling tires out of the river (photo courtesy of Twin River Outfitters)


If you’re a Virginian, take some time to look into the Association’s website, check out ways to volunteer, and take a hand in caring for your state’s most important river system!

What paddle questions do you have for our friendly Customer Service team? Contact them today: 715-755-3405 • [email protected]

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