Blackwater River closer to scenic designation

Published 8:15 am Friday, August 28, 2009

COURTLAND—The Blackwater River is one step closer to being designated as a state scenic river.

The Southampton County Board of Supervisors passed a resolution Monday in support of legislation to incorporate a 56-mile section of the Blackwater into the Virginia Scenic Rivers System. The section begins at Proctor’s Bridge Road, Virginia Route 621, and runs south to its confluence with the Nottoway River at the North Carolina line.

According to Lynn Crump, the environmental programs planner for the Virginia Department of Conservation & Recreation, the 24 rivers in the scenic river system are divided into three types: Mountain, Piedmont and Coastal. There are presently only five coastal rivers in the system.

“Very few coastal rivers have been (added),” Crump told the supervisors. “The Blackwater will be a great asset to the program because it will contribute a lot of mileage in the coastal area. It’s also such a unique river because it’s not tidal, generally speaking. It has some wonderful attributes.”

The scenic river program is designed to identify and protect significant river resources. The DCR studied the Blackwater for inclusion in the program at the request of the four jurisdictions that border the river: Southampton and Isle of Wight counties and the cities of Suffolk and Franklin.

Monday’s resolution by the board is part of the next stage in the approval process, where all four jurisdictions are asked to pass resolutions seeking the river’s inclusion in the scenic river program. The Franklin City Council approved a similar resolution on July 27, and the Suffolk City Council and the Isle of Wight County Board of Supervisors are scheduled to move on the issue this month.

The resolutions will then be sent to the area’s local delegates and senators for eventual submission to the General Assembly. Once approved by the legislature and signed by the governor, the Blackwater will officially become a scenic river.

“Our hope is that we will have four rivers that will go through the General Assembly in 2010 as a celebration of our 40th anniversary,” Crump said. “That will be the largest number of rivers that has ever gone through since the inception of this program.”

Crump said Thursday that the other three rivers that may be included are the Jordan River in Rappahannock County, the Russell Fork River in Dickenson County and the Hughes River in Rappahannock, Madison and Culpeper counties.

The county board also discussed the possibility of extending southward the scenic river designation of the Nottoway River.

According to Crump, part of the Nottoway was first designated as scenic in 1979. The designation was extended along a second portion of the river in 1992. Today, the scenic section of the Nottoway measures about 39.5 miles and runs from Virginia Route 40 at Stony Creek in Sussex County to Carys Bridge Road, Virginia Route 653, in Southampton County.

“One of the concerns I have for the county is tourism,” said Newsoms District Supervisor Walt Brown, who is also the chief of the Cheroenhaka (Nottoway) Indian tribe. “When I look at the Nottoway River as it comes down and meets the Blackwater and forms the Chowan, there are a lot of historical features.”

Those features, Brown said, include a Native American rock wheel dam that can be seen at low tide and the Hand Site, an archeological site that was excavated in 1965, 1966 and 1969.

Crump said it would not be difficult to get the remainder of the Nottoway designated as a scenic river as well.

“It would just require a letter from the county asking for a study to be done,” Crump said. “In the Nottoway’s case, Southampton is the only county involved, so there wouldn’t be some of the time lapses that we’ve had with the Blackwater.”

Riverkeeper Jeff Turner said Wednesday that the remaining portion of the Nottoway, from Carys Bridge to its confluence with the Blackwater, measures about 34 miles.

Asked what he thought of the suggestion to add the rest of the Nottoway to the scenic river system, Turner said, “I think it would be a great idea. Half of it is already done, so they may as well do the other half of it. It’s a beautiful section of river.”

Crump and Turner both said they did not know why the scenic designation of the Nottoway stops at Carys Bridge.

According to Crump, a segment of the Blackwater River from Zuni to the Franklin city limits was first studied for inclusion in the scenic river system in 1985, but the proposal did not proceed further.

A portion of a third area river, the Meherrin, has also been designated as scenic, although not the section that forms the boundry of Southampton and Greensville counties. According to the DCR, the 37 miles of the Meherrin that traverse Brunswick County were added to the scenic river system in 2006.