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Going to the River?
The Rappahannock River
The Rappahannock River in eastern Virginia is the country’s longest free-flowing river in the eastern United States, running for approximately 184 miles, from the Blue Ridge Mountains in the west to the Chesapeake by south of the Potomac. The Rappahannock River offers one of the most scenic and best-protected river corridors in the Chesapeake Bay watershed. The Rapidan River, originating from the west side of the state, connects with the Rappahannock about 10 miles northwest of Fredericksburg. Some historians believe the Rappahannock may have served as a possible boundary between the North and the South during the Civil War. It is certain that it was the site of early settlements in the Virginia Colony and was later a volatile battle theater during the Civil War. The Battle of Fredericksburg and the Battle at Rappahannock Station both took place along the river, in 1862. Although a great deal of the watershed along the Rappahannock is rural and forested, the relatively recent growth in development in the south suburbs of Washington D.C. is changing the appearance of the area and the local impact on the river.
Bordered on two sides by the Rappahannock, Fredericksburg’s image is deeply entwined with the river. Photographs of Fredericksburg often include the river, and it is regularly used as a geographical reference for the City. Although the river once had great local significance as a port-of-entry, it gradually became less of a source of transportation and more of a source of recreation and beauty. The river serves as a primary source of this growing region’s water supply.
Although the river is very beautiful and seems calm and serene in most places, it can be very dangerous for those who enter it unprepared and without a life jacket. Educate yourself on river safety and you and those who join you will be able to enjoy it safely for a lifetime.
There are numerous river outfitters in the area who can assist you in planning a trip on the river. Please see the links below for further details.
Individuals should never enter the river without a Coast Guard approved personal floatation device (PFD). The Rappahannock River is inherently dangerous, and swimming is not recommended. Strong currents and an uneven river floor with debris that cannot be seen above the water increase the risk factors. Even the strongest swimmers as well as those who are only wading in the shallow water can unexpectedly find themselves in need of assistance.
Swimming is discouraged at Old Mill Park. In the event of a water emergency, please observe the following guidelines:
- Call 9-1-1 immediately.
- No additional people should enter the water to lend assistance. Remember: “Reach or throw – don’t go”
- Call 9-1-1 and identify the location of the emergency with as much information as possible.
- There are river locator numbers near the Old Mill Park side of the river, and advising the emergency dispatcher of the number nearest the emergency will help.
In an effort to promote river safety, the Fredericksburg Fire Department has produced and distributed flyers to Old Mill Park visitors. The flyer is available in English and Spanish.
En un esfuerzo para promover seguridad del río, el cuerpo de bomberos de Fredericksburg ha producido y los aviadores distribuidos al molino viejo parquean a visitantes. El aviador está disponible en inglés y español.
Friends of the Rappahannock is a non-profit, grassroots conservation organization, dedicated to protecting and maintaining the water quality and scenic beauty of the Rappahannock River and its tributaries. For more information about the organization’s mission and activities, please visit www.riverfriends.org.
VA Outdoor Center:
Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries:
Tides for the Rappahannock:
Integrated Flood Observing and Warning System – IFLOWS
USGS – Rappahannock River
Fredericksburg Watershed Property Management
Fredericksburg owns approximately 4,200 acres of riverfront land outside of the City limits along the Rappahannock and Rapidan.
In April of 2006, Fredericksburg City Council approved a conservation easement with The Nature Conservancy, the Virginia Outdoors Foundation, and the Virginia Board of Game and Inland Fisheries calling for no new development on this land, but allowing for low-impact recreational use. Maps including boat launches,camping sites and trails.
In January, 2011, City Council adopted The Fredericksburg Watershed Management Plan.
The Nature Conservancy paid the City $1.6 million, which was used to endow a full-time watershed manager position. Lee Sillitoe, the City’s Watershed Property Manager, oversees the conservation easement and works with various state and local government and law enforcement agencies, as well as other watershed stakeholders such as Friends of the Rappahannock ( http://www.riverfriends.org), on issues that involve the property.
Use of the City's Watershed Property - Click here to see a list of activities that are prohibited.
What are a few of the duties and responsibilities of the Watershed Property Manager?
The Watershed Property Manager is available to citizens and adjacent river property owners for phone calls and messages regarding complaints and concerns about the property. This full time law enforcement position is responsible for inspecting/monitoring conditions along the rivers, and correcting conditions that will have adverse impact to the ecosystems associated with the river environments. The Watershed Manager coordinates with various local and state law enforcement authorities in conducting enforcement of ATV, motorcycle and other motorized vehicle violations, tree cutting and land disturbance violations, and any other violations that may occur on the property. Contact Lee by e-mail or cell phone: 540-847-1162.
A new park along the river, between Charlotte and Hanover Streets, will reclaim a central section of the downtown riverfront and provide a focal point for public activities. This project is the culmination of many years of work to provide pedestrian facilities along the river, and the design has been developed in close conversation with the public. Although the new park will be closely linked to the downtown Visitor Center and the central business district, it will also provide a place of quiet retreat, allowing park visitors to appreciate the natural values of the Rappahannock River. The conceptual design includes an area with grass and tree cover, and - for events such as art shows and similar activities - an amphitheater using the natural basin at the foot of Charlotte Street for outdoor music events, and finally, an area with decorative hard surfaces and a fountain for everyday use and enjoyment. Riverfront Park Concept Drawing
Photos in river gallery at top of page courtesy of Sharon Ramsey