NAME & PROFESSION: Gabe Silver, Environmental Educator with the James River Association
JAMES RIVER ORGANIZATION: James River Association
WHY YOU LOVE THE JAMES: I’ve always lived in the watershed, grew up paddling and fishing its tributaries around Charlottesville, and now live in Richmond, a city that wouldn’t exist and certainly wouldn’t be much fun without the James River. Every time I drink a glass of water, take a shower, or water our garden, I use the James River. When I turn on the lights I know that the electricity I use could not be produced without the cooling waters of the James used by the power plant. So I love the James River for keeping me alive and giving me comfort.
I have the great honor of getting to work to protect and restore the river, but even I have long days in front of a computer at the office. After those days, in about 15 minutes, I can be out of the office and down on the river, paddling some of the best urban whitewater in the country or catching a nice rockfish from a canoe with the Richmond skyline behind me. I can daydream of longer river trips to come or recall a hidden gorge on the Jackson River where I caught trout as a kid and remember that some of the water flowing past me today in Richmond came through that very spot. I cannot imagine a better way to restore the human spirit. I love the James for how it wakes me up, surprises me, and grounds me.
Lastly, I love the James because it belongs to us all and binds us with a mutual responsibility. Just as in a family or a community, there are folks both upstream and downstream of us. We expect the people upriver to keep the water clean for us and we owe the same to our friends living downriver. The law of the land here in the U.S. and in Virginia shows great wisdom in asserting the public nature of our rivers. The James belongs to the people and the creatures of this land. We have a right to it and a great responsibility to it.
HOW YOU HELP THE RIVER: Working for the James River Association as an Environmental Educator, I dedicate myself to the very long-range vision of a healthy James River. I introduce students to nature and to the river, hoping to awaken a sense of awe and love for the natural world. People become conservationists and environmentalists not because they have been preached at, but because they have experienced and understood a healthy ecosystem, and can connect this, in the big picture, to their own well-being. I want people to know that the James River is a rich blessing we all share, and that we can choose to do right by it, so that is can continue to heal from a polluted past and be a cleaner river for our the generations to come.
I also try to help the river by conserving energy and water at home, biking to work, using rain barrels, avoiding toxic chemicals, and writing my representatives when there is environmental legislation pending. JRA has a list of seven simple things to do to help the river.
WHAT WOULD YOU IMPROVE OR CHANGE: First, I would get students in our schools outside and down to the river to learn in nature much more often. I would teach more kids the skills they need to enjoy and understand the river.
Second, I would encourage Virginia to avoid complacency with water quality in the James. Our state government recently indicated that the James might be getting too clean! Looking at the algal blooms, high bacteria levels, and fish kills that beset the James each spring and summer, it seems to me that we can and should do better.
Third, I would improve public access and ecological interpretation along the James. This would mean more places to launch a kayak, walk along the river, watch wildlife, and particularly camp. The James River from Iron Gate to Richmond could become a world-class multi-day water trail with more public investment. That would help Virginia’s economy and help ensure that there will always be advocates for the River.