Dance

A group of people are taken out on a replica batteau on the river during the 34th annual James River Batteau Festival launch on Friday, June 14, 2019 at Riveredge Park. The James River Association and Virginia Canal and Navigation Society sponsored free boat rides. (Emily Elconin/The News & Advance)

A new secondary public access location is planned for Riveredge Park in Madison Heights, a feature James River Association representatives said will open up more opportunities for area residents to enjoy the river.

The association estimates the project will cost about $65,000 and enhance the function and capacity of canoeing, educational programs and batteau learning tours the JRA offers. The Amherst County Board of Supervisors recently voted to contribute up to $35,000 for a local match to bring the plan forward this year.

The park fronting the James, which opened in 2013, has a landing for boaters and other river uses. Rob Campbell, Upper River Community Conservationist for the association, a nonprofit that serves as a guardian and voice for the James River, recently told supervisors on an early December weekday more than a dozen cars filled the parking lot with people accessing the river.

“When summer time rolls around, there are hours you can hardly get to it,” Campbell told supervisors of the landing, adding it can become a traffic jam during batteau festival season.

The new access point would ease that flow on high traffic days, allow paddlers to quadruple their experience in river access and provide more options to get people on and off the water, Campbell said.

The association has an office at the Madison Heights park and conducts educational tours on the river, including use of the batteau, a flat-bottomed vessel which was common on the river in the 18th and 19th centuries.

Bill Street, the association’s CEO, wrote in a Nov. 26 letter to Amherst supervisors the new secondary access point would provide those boating, fishing or visiting much needed and improved access to the park’s westernmost boundary. The added location will open up a new section of the river that non-motorized craft could not access and gives those fishing increased use of the riverbank in a treacherous portion of the park, Street wrote.

The new location also would provide safer river access in the area for people who may have a physical disability and more tubing opportunities for families, according to Street. James River Adventures, a local outfitting service for canoeing and kayaking, also would launch batteau trips from the new access point and the added infrastructure could bring more river-related events and significantly boost the local economy, Street said in the letter.

“This access point would improve the overall functionality of the park for all visitors and users,” Street wrote to the supervisors. “When people are making their decision on places to visit, this will help make the park a more attractive option. The more activities they can easily participate in, the more likely they are to visit.”

Street said the goal is to complete construction by the beginning of the 2020 boating season. The design facilitates batteau boarding and small craft launching above the river’s rapids, which the JRA is attempting to grow through its business plan, according to his letter.

Shawn Ralston, program director for the association, said the nonprofit has grown its outdoor environmental education program and in the past year reached more than 1,600 students, including every eighth-grader from Lynchburg City Schools and all seventh-graders from Amherst County Public Schools.

“We anticipate we will continue to see that growth,” Ralston recently said to Amherst supervisors.

The new amenity would be highly ideal for floaters, tubers and non-motorized users of the river, she said.

“It’s such a pretty section of river to open up to people,” Campbell said. “... It just really opens lots of doors.”

The matching money the board approved comes from a county account using revenue from fines and forfeitures. The remaining money in that account is nearly $13,000, according to the county.

Campbell recently told supervisors the JRA is confident in the project cost estimate from local engineering firm Hurt & Proffitt.

“This attribute will be county property,” he said of the planned feature. “We will just be there to utilize it and help the public use it.”

Reach Justin Faulconer at (434) 385-5551.

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Reach Justin Faulconer at (434) 385-5551.

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