With a theme of “Float, Fish, Roll or Stroll” the annual meeting of the Pure Water Forum highlighted the numerous recreation and tourism opportunities on Shenandoah Valley streams. Held at the Mimslyn Inn in Luray on September 26, the event drew about 50 attendees.
John Gibson, the owner of Downriver Canoe Company, and a speaker at the event, described how he started his business 40 years ago with 22 canoes. He has since added kayaks, rafts and inner tubes, catering to locals and international tourists seeking a memorable outdoor experience.
“Between the three river outfitters in Page County – Downriver Canoe Company, Shenandoah River Outfitters and Front Royal Canoe Company – we get 50,000 people on the river each summer,” Gibson said.
Randall Rose of the Virginia Tourism Corporation supported the concept that tourism and agriculture go hand in hand and how many localities across the Commonwealth are doing as Luray has done with the Luray Hawksbill Greenway and developing their natural waterways as features for downtown revitalization and recreation.
For example, he said, there is the Allegheny Highlands Blueway, the Upper James River Trail, the Jackson River Scenic Trail and the Clinch River Valley Initiative. “Daylighting” sections of streams and creeks that flow through downtowns connects them to the more rural areas.
A field trip in the afternoon allowed attendees at the annual meeting to stroll the Luray Hawksbill Greenway and see the ways the two mile paved path can be used for bird watching, fishing, bicycling, rollerblading, pet exercise, walking and running and picnicking.
Attendees got even more exercise on another field trip to the White House Farm where the group strolled through the 52 acre riparian buffer adjacent to the Shenandoah River where owner Scott Plein is re-establishing native warm season grasses and wildflowers. By increasing the biodiversity in the area, he is supporting the ecosystem as a whole.
“Since 2006, this area has been fenced,” he said, describing how the cattle were moved to a location with an alternative water source.
Tall fronds of Indian grass swayed in the early autumn afternoon, growing near clumps of big blue stem and eastern gamma grass. Various management techniques determine the most effective ways of transitioning from cool season pasture to native warm season grasses including burning, chemical and manual control. Various seed mixtures have been applied with different techniques.
One of the predominant species in several of the test plots is wingstem, a member of the sunflower family. “It is considered a native invasive,” said Bobby Whitescarver, a conservation consultant who joined the tour.
Mr. Plein described how he is controlling a nonnative invasive, the ailanthus or tree of heaven, and leaving the snags for convenient bird perches. He also pointed across the field to White House Natives, the 12,000 tree nursery with 85 species of trees indigenous to Virginia, many of which serve as hosts for native caterpillars which then support bird populations.
The White House Farm Foundation sponsors ‘naturalist strolls’ through the riparian area and along the river trail next to the South Fork of the Shenandoah River.
Check back here at our website for more information serving as an example of the types of outdoor education and ecotourism which can be further developed in the Shenandoah Valley.
The Pure Water Forum represents the interests of educators, industry, agriculture, local government, and citizens whose mission is to improve water quality and water conservation through networking, collaboration, education and action in the Shenandoah River watershed.