Every raindrop that falls onto Rappahannock County feeds into the Rappahannock River, which widens from its headwaters as it passes through Rixeyville, cascades over the falls in Fredericksburg and empties into the Chesapeake Bay in Tappahannock. At its mouth, the Rappahannock is wider than the eye can see; at its headwaters in the county, you can straddle the Rappahannock River with each foot on dry land.
Correction: In last week’s story about Bev Hunter at RappU, the town at the mouth of the Rappahannock was misidentified as Tappahannock, which is actually 50 miles upstream from where the river meets the Chesapeake Bay. There on the Northern Neck side of the river at its confluence with the Bay are Irvington and White Stone. On the river’s southern side, near Stingray Point, is Deltaville.
In addition, it should be noted that Bev Hunter’s research in her professional career until 2000 had been focused not on water per se but, rather, on teaching and learning using advanced technologies.
“And I’m telling you, for YEARS, I have been peeling that onion, of what does it mean to be at the headwaters,” RappU professor and RappFlow president Bev Hunter said in a recent interview, gesticulating at an imaginary map in the Rappahannock News board room. “Most people have in their heads, unless they grew up here, that there are rivers that come down to you. You see shirts that say, ‘We all live downstream.’ So you always assume there’s some river coming, and you worry about how clean is that river. Well, we not only have the beginning of the river, and it’s pristine as a river can be, from heaven, plus we have the protection of the Shenandoah Park, right at the headwaters. So then you have the right land cover; you have the forest, and all the streams up there are buffered.”
Hunter is teaching a five-part class this spring for RappU called “Your Rappahannock Watershed” which will convene Tuesday nights 7:30-9 p.m. starting March 30 at the Rappahannock Library. The course costs $10 for the series and online registration is available at rappU.org. In the first week, each student will identify his or her property on a map of the county, to find its headwaters, and to identify where the water goes next. Students will study their property in that context, to identify problem areas or ways to improve water quality.
Hunter’s non-profit organization RappFlow -— Rappahannock Friends and Lovers of our Watersheds -— was created 15 years ago to help preserve, protect, conserve and restore water resources and watersheds in Rappahannock County. The organization has divided the county into 26 subwatersheds, all of which are part of the Rappahannock River Basin.
Once their property has been identified within the context of the Rappahannock River Basin, each member of the class will work through the textbook for the course: “People, land and water of Rappahannock County.” The book includes two parts: A set of big maps that show the county in each of the different variables, like the land cover, the percent of the land that’s in the park; and then the other part includes research data and analyses of the county watershed from several projects conducted by RappFlow.
Students also will learn how to take advantage of information, technical and financial assistance, and other resources from groups such as the Soil & Water Conservation District, Virginia Department of Environmental Quality, Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries, Trout Unlimited, local landscape experts and others.
“A great example of an activity that a landowner could do, is find the headwaters in their watershed,” Hunter said, noting that each student will present a report to the class the final week, defining some aspect of their watershed. “We’ll work on it. We’ll look at the maps. We have topography, contours, watershed boundaries, the streams, and you will find it, because you can see where the streams intersect with the topography contours.”
Hunter and her husband Hal fell in love with the Rappahannock River in 1968, when they bought a property near Amissville. It wasn’t a big river that flowed through their property Hunter said, more of a little stream, but she and her children played in the river every weekend that it was warm enough. This was at a time when Hunter and her husband were working in DC and Hunter was traveling the world working on water conservation research projects. She and her husband moved here permanently in 2000.
“I always said, ‘Someday I’m gonna find a way to apply my skills to protecting this river.’ And I had NO idea in the world what that would amount to, how I would go about it,” she said, before telling a brief history of RappFlow, her passion.
Hunter is a specialist in Geospatial Information Systems and spatial analysis. She is a member of Old Rag Master Naturalists, the Rappahannock County Water Quality Advisory Committee, the Stewardship of Creation Committee, the Virginia Diocese and the Rappahannock League for Environmental Protection. She is a graduate of the Virginia Natural Resources Leadership Institute. She is the author of over 25 books and 200 technical reports and book chapters on learning and teaching with technologies such as telecommunications networks, simulations, geospatial technologies, and intelligent tutoring systems.
“This is a prerequisite thing, that you develop knowledge of your own backyard. It’s: Where I live, what are the issues?” Hunter said of the spring RappU course. “Do I come and have an understanding of the movement of stormwater through our particular valley, let’s say, how does that work? Stormwater management would be a BIG outcome.”
Hunter said students will learn from RappFLOW’s expert partners, including Richard Jacobs of the Culpeper Soil & Water Conservation District, landscape designers and native plant experts, and volunteers; and from each other — using maps, photos, data, online sites, field walks, and RappFLOW’s extensive assessment of the “People, Land and Water of Rappahannock County.”
“I’m going to ask each member of the class to produce some kind of a report to the group about their watershed. This will be their product,” Hunter said. “And they can focus on stormwater management, erosion sediment control, stream buffer, vegetation, rain garden; they may observe the terrain, it’d be a lot about topography to it, if they were to build a rain garden. So not actually doing something yet, but doing the assessment, seeing where they can get the biggest bang.”
Visit RappU.org to enroll in Hunter’s class, or choose from over 20 other courses.