New appreciation for Virginia’s New River


The family loves canoeing on the New River, VA | © Steve White

The family loves canoeing on the New River, VA | © Steve White

Each year our family of five and another family of five whom we’ve known for years spend the 4th of July weekend on the New River at the Foster Falls campground in Virginia.

It’s a truly wonderful place: great camping on grassy campsites that slope down to the river’s banks, canoe shuttles that take you five miles upstream so you can paddle back to the campground, gentle “shelves” in the limestone bottom that give it a terraced look and make for great swimming and tubing, bird watching especially for ospreys, and an occasional smallmouth bass that will hit a wooly bugger fly or a Mepps lure.

You couldn’t ask for more river entertainment, and that doesn’t begin to describe how pretty the water is and how beautiful the evening light is on the immense rock wall opposite the campground.

This year, there were two things about the trip that gave me a new appreciation for the river. The first was that the river was absolutely huge, and approaching flood stage as it came out of its banks. It usually flows at 3,000-4,000 cubic feet per second, and this year it peaked while we were there at 33,000 cfs. It was so big with all of the recent rains that we could only look at it. No fishing, no swimming, no canoeing, no tubing.

So we spent plenty of time just looking; sitting near its loud roar and feeling its power as it surged past. This “looking” let us see the river as a living thing. It needed to breathe out (actually into our campsite) and push more than its usual flow through these falls. Its standing waves stood 8-10 feet tall, as if proud of their strength. And its color ran red as it carried truckloads of sediment from the Appalachians to the Mississippi.

The second appreciation I had this year was that I recently learned, as part of American Rivers’ 40th anniversary, that one of our first major victories was for river protection on the New in the mid-70s. Our early staff members and supporters fought to keep a proposed dam from being built on an upstream section and then added to that victory by designating the section as Wild and Scenic, thereby ensuring its protection forever. So as I watched the river surge by, I was grateful that a part of the river’s ability to do that was due to American Rivers’ early work.

I’d encourage you to check out the New River or any river in your area this summer to enjoy so much that they have to offer.

In past years, my family has a great time canoeing on the New River, VA | © Steve White

In past years, my family has a great time canoeing on the New River, VA | © Steve White