Rappahannock Friends and Lovers of Our Watershed

Press Coverage on

Our StreamTreasures of Rappahannock County: How We Protect Them

July 3, 2003: Learn How to Protect County Streams
July 10, 2003: How to Protect Streams and Watersheds
July 17, 2003: Streams of Rappahannock: A Community Effort
July 2003: RLEP/RappFLOW Event Draws a Crowd Eager to Learn about Water Protection

©Times Community Newspapers 2004

Learn how to protect county streams (First in a series)
Beverly Hunter

WHAT TO AVOID: The mowed lawn to the edge of the stream allows rapid runoff during rainstorms and provides no cooling effect for the stream water. Sedimentation from this runoff flows into a nearby pond.
Photo courtesy Bev Hunter

Rappahannock County homeowners, farmers, educators, leaders and the general public are invited to join with local and regional experts on Saturday, July 12 at Hearthstone School near Sperryville to learn how to protect the county's streams.
All are invited to this free educational forum from 10 a.m. to 12 noon and the free picnic barbecue afterwards, enjoying the views of the Thornton River and the Shenandoah National Park that surrounds Hearthstone School.

Presenters will include Bob Anderson, a local farmer and 15-year veteran of the Rappahannock County Board of Supervisors; John Tippett, Director of Friends of the Rappahannock; Joe Thompson, District Conservationist, U. S. Department of Agriculture's Natural Resources Conservation Service; Sam Clifton, local construction contractor and member of the Hearthstone Board of Directors; and teachers and students from Hearthstone School.

Rappahannock League for Environmental Protection (RLEP) is the main sponsor of the event, including the picnic barbecue. Exhibits and educational materials will be provided by additional sponsors of the event, including RappFLOW, Hearthstone School, Culpeper Soil & Water Conservation District, Piedmont Environmental Council, Friends of the Rappahannock, U.S.D.A. Natural Resources Conservation Service and Piedmont Research Institute.

2,000 stream treasures

Persons who live in Rappahannock County or own land here, probably have one of the county's nearly 2,000 stream treasures on or near their land--a stream, river or pond.

From tiny creeks to major rivers, all waterways need a vegetative zone along the waterway, made of trees, shrubs or grasses. Presenters will demonstrate how vegetation reduces and traps sediments from erosion and filters out fertilizers, pesticides, and other contaminants. Forested buffers also shade streams during the summer months, keeping water temperatures down for the benefit of aquatic life.

Bob Anderson, an award-winning breeder of Angus cattle, will describe the paths that have led him to become a leader in regional water quality efforts, including his roles on the Rappahannock River Basin Study Commission and as chairman of the Planning District Commission.

Joe Thompson will help participants understand how buffers work, through examples of vegetative management. He will show how some Rappahannock County landowners have done their part for improving local water quality and wildlife habitat. He will also explain some of the tools and resources that are available in this community such as CREP (Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program) and WHIP (Wildlife Habitat Incentive Program).

Thompson holds a degree in Wildlife Management from New Mexico State University. During his 27-year career with USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service he has implemented and managed watershed and stream restoration projects in Oregon, Nevada, California and Virginia.

John Tippett will show how Rappahannock County streams affect the Rappahannock watershed and Chesapeake Bay. He has served as Director of Friends Of the Rappahannock (F.O.R.) for nine years. Tippett holds a masters degree in Environmental Resource Management from Duke University. He specializes in watershed protection and nonpoint source pollution control.

Tippett led the development of a comprehensive GPS-based survey of the Rapidan River in 1999 and published an atlas prioritizing riparian areas for restoration. His group assists agricultural operators in the Rappahannock's upper basin with riparian stewardship.

Teachers, students and parents from Hearthstone School will take participants on a tour of the school grounds, including the student-built path along the Thornton River, the locations where students conduct their water quality monitoring activities and the stream they use to water the garden the students are creating.

©Times Community Newspapers 2004

How to protect streams and watersheds
By Beverly Hunter

The steep, eroded left bank of this stream contrasts with the vegetation-covered right bank.
Photo courtesy Bev Hunter

There are a great many ways in to protect and restore streams near homes, farms, forests and communities. The following suggestions are a beginning.
To learn more, come to the July 12 "Stream Treasures of Rappahannock" outing and picnic at Hearthstone School on Route 211 west of Sperryville to learn more.

Here are ways to protect and improve the vegetative buffer:

  • Promote dense vegetation to reduce runoff and trap contaminants.
  • Stop mowing and cutting vegetation down to within at place and slow the flow of water into the stream. least 35 feet of a stream. Vegetation helps to hold the bank in
  • Restore vegetative buffers by planting native species of grasses, shrubs and trees along the stream and around the pond.
  • Learn about native plants and use them where appropriate. Avoid introducing invasive non-native species in your riparian zone, such as Autumn Olive, Japanese honeysuckle, Crown Vetch, Ailanthus (Tree of Heaven) and fescue grass species.

(The Virginia State Department of Conservation and Recreation provides helpful lists of native plants and their uses, at http://www.dcr.state.va.us/dnh/natvripa.htm).
• Restore eroded stream banks with help from a professional;
• Leave wood and other natural materials in the stream.
• Don't straighten channels or place rubble or rip-rap on stream banks.

Around home and farm

  • If your yard is well drained, direct the water from your downspouts and paved areas to a grassy spot. The grass will slow down the water, giving time for the soil to absorb it.
  • Use gravel or bark instead of pavement for paths and driveways.
  • Build rain gardens as an alternative to curbs, gutters and storm sewers. The combination of plants, soil, and mulch works as a filter for the first "flush" of stormwater that washes off driveways, roads and roofs at the beginning of a rain.
  • When anyone does any disturbing of the earth, always observe state and local ordinances and get proper permits.
  • Plan new construction away from existing streams and wetlands.
  • Keep grass clippings away from streams.
  • Locate compost piles on flat surfaces away from streams or drainage areas. Keep animal waste away from streams, riparian areas, ponds and paved areas.
  • Minimize use of pesticides and chemical fertilizers.

Learn with others

The Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation (DCR) offers many resources for learning with and from others in Virginia. Their waterways site on the is a great starting point: http://www.dcr.state.va.us/waterways/index.htm.

The Rappahannock Friends and Lovers of Our Watershed (RappFLOW) is a local grassroots organization in the county. Its members are learning together through activities such as the Stream Treasures forum this coming Saturday at Hearthstone School.

Take advantage of federal, state, and private support for a restoration project

The Culpeper Soil and Water Conservation District can provide information and assistance concerning several different assistance programs, such as the CREP (Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program) and various Best Management Practices (BMP) cost-sharing programs.


Adopt a local stream and take care of it year 'round. The Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation manages a statewide litter education and clean up campaign.

Join the 82 groups already participating and help Virginia add to the 238 stream, river and shoreline miles that have already been adopted. You can call 1-877-42WATER to request an information and registration packet or visit: http://www.dcr.state.va.us/sw/adopt.htm.

©Times Community Newspapers 2004

Treasures of Rappahannock: A community effort
By Bob Lander, President, RLEP

"Rappahannockers" enjoyed and experienced an educational program, a picnic and a tour of Hearthstone School's building and grounds in Sperryville last Saturday.

The Rappahannock League for Environmental Protection (RLEP) sponsored its second in the series of educational and informative programs spotlighting "Treasures of Rappahannock." RappFlow's program focused on the county's treasured 2,000 streams.<
Bev Hunter's articles in the two previous editions of the Rappahannock News pointed-out aptly our responsibilities for the watershed. Around noon, the annual RLEP Membership Picnic was reprised with a picnic lunch for all attendees and Hearthstone students conducted tours of their building and grounds.

This family event was a community affair as demonstrated by the three entities (RLEP, RappFlow and Hearthstone School) combining their resources for the benefit of the residents and friends of Rappahannock County. Exhibiters provided information pertaining to our watershed and how we can protect it.

Knowledgeable speakers answered questions about the headwaters of the Rappahannock River and our stewardship of its tributaries.

We were again reminded that "we all live downstream" and that each of us has a responsibility for keeping the waterways healthy. Farmers with crops and/or animals, residents with gardens and visitors to the county gained a greater appreciation for this natural resource that for most of the time is taken for granted.

The day's activities were a community experience for learning and socializing with neighbors and enjoying another beautiful day in Rappahannock county.

The Rappahannock League for Environmental Protection has existed for 33 years solely for the protection and preservation of the land and our quality of life. So far, through the combined efforts of many to include those in government and concerned citizens, the county remains much as our forefathers saw it and as those who followed intended it to be.

Today, we enjoy clean air and water, dark skies, open spaces, mountain vistas, no traffic congestion and an enviable quality of life. We collectively evolve our man made environment while protecting and preserving our natural treasures.

RLEP is just one of several organizations that has endeavored to represent its members' and other citizens' concerns in that evolvement.

The success of this event is directly attributed to the attendees and of course those who worked to provide the program and activities of the day. On behalf of all involved, thank you, as this was truly the effort of a community with a common interest coming together.


RLEP/RappFLOW Event Draws a Crowd Eager to Learn about Water Protection
By Amy Silver

Over 100 people attended Saturday’s (July 12, 2003) Community Education Forum, “Our Stream Treasures of Rappahannock County: How Can We Protect Them?” Sponsored by the Rappahannock League for Environmental Protection (RLEP) and RappFLOW and held at Hearthstone School, the standing-room only event, enhanced by sparkling clear weather, was widely considered to be a smashing success.

Introductions and Panel

The program was the inaugural event for Hearthstone’s new Community Activities Room; Hearthstone Board Member Sam Cliffton began the day by welcoming participants and speaking about how conservation practices in the construction business have improved since he first came to the county. RLEP President Bob Lander spoke about the county’s beauty and the importance of preservation. RappFLOW co-founder and RLEP Board Member Janet Davis moderated the panel discussion which followed.

Hearthstone parent Jill Keihn described the school’s approach to environmental education. “Stewardship and an understanding of where we fit into the big picture of the natural world are part of our approach every day and at all ages,” said Ms. Keihn, who described the children’s organic gardens and the vegetative buffers planted beside the stream that waters them. Parent Liz Disbro outlined the student water monitoring program which has assessed the health of the Thornton River since the school’s move to its present location in August, 2000.

Next, Rappahannock High School Science Teacher Beth Gall spoke about her 9th grade Earth Science classes and 11th/12th grade Environmental Science class. She described the 5-foot sand-filled stream channels which 9th graders construct, allowing them to measure erosion and create and test different approaches to mitigating it. Water study occupies four to six weeks of the Environmental Science class; students visit county sites and learn about stream buffers and their impact on water quality, soil, and flooding. Ms. Gall hopes to involve her class in the Natural Resources Conservation Services “Envirothon” (a student competition that tests environmental knowledge) this year and to begin a stream monitoring program.

Bob Anderson, a member of the Board of Supervisors, the Planning Commission, and the Rappahannock River Basin Commission, described how water protection efforts have improved since he moved to the county in 1968. He explained how on his own farm near Rock Mills, he has installed water tanks and fenced cattle out of streams and ponds.


Joe Thompson, a District Conservationist for the USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), began his remarks by saying how inspired and encouraged he felt to see how many partners his organization had in their efforts to maintain water quality and keep soil in place. Mr. Thompson’s presentation focused on how riparian buffer zones can improve water quality in the Rappahannock River Basin. Riparian buffers are networks of vegetation that, planted or preserved along stream and river banks and ponds, act as “living filters” for both surface and subsurface water. They can be grasses, managed forest, or undisturbed forest, and should include a mixture of shrubs, trees, and other plants. Buffer zones reduce the flow of nutrients and sediment contained in runoff from agricultural and urban land uses into streams. They help recharge groundwater (keeping wells from running dry), and offer flood protection downstream by slowing down and spreading out water flow. They help stabilize stream banks and hold soil in place. They provide shade which helps to regulate water temperature, maintaining a healthy aquatic environment. They offer important habitat and “connectivity”(cover for movements) for wildlife. Without mitigation, nutrients such as phosphorus and nitrogen feed algae, which dies, decomposes, and sucks oxygen out of the water, killing fish and other aquatic life in oxygen-poor areas downstream. Soil particles muddy the water, stressing aquatic plants and grasses on which small fish and other animals depend for cover. Other harmful substances mitigated by buffers include pesticides and pathogens. Buffers can prevent 50% or more of unwanted nutrients and pesticides, 60% of certain pathogens including coliform bacteria, and over 75% of sediment from entering waterways.

Mr. Thompson outlined the financial incentives offered to owners of pasture and cropland through Virginia’s Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program (CREP). This generous program provides landowners with up sign-up bonuses as well as up to 90% of the costs of installation and practice. Additional payments include annual rental fees to replace lost income from removing land from agricultural production. Other government and private organizations offer additional incentives, including some for preserving wildlife habitat on non-agricultural lands.

Mr. Thompson showed slides of buffer zone plantings in Rappahannock County, including “before and after” images of a stream on Richard McNear’s property in Gid Brown Hollow. This stream had the largest turnaround in water quality of any monitored site in the Upper Rappahannock/Potomac River Basin.

In addition to preventing erosion, pollution, and flooding, and protecting aquatic and terrestrial wildlife, riparian buffers are a visual demonstration of a landowner’s commitment to land stewardship, said Mr. Thompson. The CREP program is now at only 33% of its target acreage. Owners of land adjacent to any Rappahannock County river, stream, intermittent stream, spring, seep, wetland, pond, or sinkhole, or of former wetlands capable of being restored, can participate if the land has had row crops planted on it for at least two of the last five years (with pasture or hay in rotation) or is currently being used to graze cattle or other livestock. For more information on CREP, or for help and advice on protecting waterways on your property, contact Mr. Thompson at 540/825-4200, extension 108.

Friends of the Rappahannock’s Executive Director John Tippett opened his remarks by saying, “I bring thanks from 200,000 of your downstream neighbors! I can unequivocally say that Rappahannock County stands head and shoulders above other areas in the Rappahannock River Basin in terms of stewardship.” Mr. Tippett said that the biggest challenge to the health of the Rappahannock River is algae, “…the Rappahannock River’s nemesis.” Algae is fed by the nutrients phosphorus and nitrogen, particularly nitrogen, which dissolves easily in water. Rappahannock River’s Lower Basin below Port Royal, where deep water impedes water circulation, is particularly vulnerable. Extensive sections of the river in that area go completely devoid of oxygen in the summer, killing all aquatic life – even clams and worms. Because there are no state standards for nutrients and sediment in waterways, explained Mr. Tippett, these problems do not show up on violations reported by the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality. In the Upper Rappahannock River Basin (which includes Rappahannnock County), cropland and pasture produce almost 80% of the unwated nitrogen and riparian buffer zones (combined with fencing animals away from waterways) are the key to its control. The big issue downstream, of course, is development, particularly the spread of “impervious cover,” or paved areas. Friends of the Rappahannock are very active in encouraging the use of biofilter areas — akin to parking lot vegetative buffer zones. The group also works for removal of dams which have prevented the passage of certain migratory fish in the river for over 150 years. Mr. Tippett reported that in part as a result of the group’s efforts, the Embrey Dam, 2.4 miles upstream from Fredericksburg, which prevents the access of migratory fish to over 70 miles of spawning ground in the mainstem Rappahannock and Rapidan Rivers, will be breached in February, 2004. To contact the Friends of the Rappahannock, call (540) 373-3448 or visit http://for.communitypoint.org.

Maps Available

The second in a series of ten Rappahannock County Natural Resource Maps was introduced at the event. Map #2, “Streamside Vegetation,” shows a sample of the 2,000 streams and ponds in the county in the context of surrounding vegetation. (The first map showed all major streams in the county.) The maps are produced by Beverly Hunter, Director of the Piedmont Research Institute with support from RLEP, the County government, the Piedmont Environmental Council, RappFLOW, and other organizations. Saturday’s “Stream Treasures” event was the second in RLEP’s series “Treasures of Rappahannock County.” A videotape of the event will be available at the Rappahannock County Library. At the conclusion of the program, there was a free picnic sponsored by RLEP, along with tours of Hearthstone School’s classrooms, organic gardens, and river path. For information on Hearthstone School or its Community Activities Room, call 987-9212 or visit www.hearthstoneschool.org. For more information on the event or the map series, call RLEP at 987-8504.