What comes to mind when you think about what makes the Shenandoah watershed so special? What images do you conjure when you imagine the river? That’s what dozens of people gathered to discuss at three meetings and three public forums this spring. Hosted by Shenandoah Riverkeeper Mark Frondorf and the Potomac Riverkeeper Network, the Green and Prosperous Shenandoah meetings took place in some of the places that are icons of the Valley: Front Royal, Harrisonburg, and Woodstock. The idea is to find common ground on a vision for potential futures for the river and its watershed.
The Shenandoah couples with the long spine of the Blue Ridge Mountains to form the defining landscape feature over its length — each fork is about 100 miles long, and the main stem, which forms in Front Royal, is about 55 miles in length. It’s a popular recreation river that is often plagued by water quality issues like high fecal coliform counts. Over the last 15 years, the river has seen occasional fish kills, along with seasonal algae blooms that occur each summer.
It’s also the drinking water supply for Berryville and Charles Town, W.Va., and several other communities upstream. It passes through agricultural counties, industrial zones, many small towns, shopping centers, and huge shipping and warehouse facilities. Runoff and pollution from each of these sectors plays a role adding pollution loads to the river. Residential growth also is putting a strain on the Shenandoah’s ecology.
Stormwater runoff from towns and developments, and from the highways that serve them, is a major
Arriving at a shared idea for the future may have been the easy part. Not surprisingly, many people identified some cornerstones in their vision for the Shenandoah: a thriving farm economy and working landscapes, continued and expanded access recreation on the river, vibrant communities where people cherish their connections with the river, and a Shenandoah River that is much cleaner than it is today. The big questions folks grappled with centered around the steps, or milestones, that would bring about that future.
Participants included farmers, business owners, outfitters, conservation organizations, county and regional planners, and people who live along or just plain love the Shenandoah. They bandied around ideas that, if adopted or strengthened, would help restore the river and retain the rural character of the region.
Now volunteers are taking the feedback from all of the meetings to compile their ideas into that roadmap. “Potomac Riverkeeper Network is honored to host these sessions,” said Mark Frondorf, the Shenandoah Riverkeeper. “Ultimately creating a roadmap to a Green and Prosperous Future for the Shenandoah watershed will take many people from many backgrounds and interests.”
Frondorf says the volunteer team will work through the summer and unveil the roadmap in the fall.