Geography of the James River Watershed

What defines a place? We will explore this question through the study of the James River watershed, our home while at the University of the Richmond. How does the concept of a watershed link us to this place? How does it link us to all places? This community will explore the relationship between the people, the land, and the water in the River City.

Inside the Classroom

This course has three primary objectives: (1) to exercise and hone skills of critical observation of our environment, (2) to provide an introduction to physical geography emphasizing concepts of scale, connectivity and boundaries as they apply to the James River watershed, and (3) to link theory learned in class to the practice of natural resource management in the local community.

These goals are accomplished through a combination of scholarly discussion in the classroom and first-hand exposure to the people and environments that define the resource challenges and opportunities within the James River watershed. In this broad survey course you will become familiar with basic concepts in cartography, ecology, hydrology, historical geography, geology, biogeography, environmental leadership, and spatial analysis. You will also gain an increased understanding of the geographic concepts of place and region through our intensive focus on the watershed surrounding you.

Outside the Classroom

We will begin the semester by exploring the five watersheds region of Portland, Oregon. The trip will include extensive travel to follow the path of water from the Cascade Mountains, through old-growth forests and the fields of the Willamette Valley, and into the urban environment. Similarities and differences between the geography and human-natural resource challenges confronted in this region and those we will observe within the James River watershed will be emphasized.

Community-based learning is a key element in this course. Students will combine academic readings and research, classroom discussions and hands-on experiences with community partners to develop meaningful projects within the watershed. Throughout the semester, we will not only meet and work with local natural resource practitioners to discuss and assist with projects related to their work in the watershed, but we will spend time exploring and experiencing the James River Watershed. Some potential examples of that exploration include:

  • Service activities with the James River Park System and Envision the James initiative
  • Rafting, tubing and kayaking on the James
  • Nature walks along Westhampton Lake and Gambles Mill Corridor
  • Hiking and camping:
    • Blue Ridge Mountains
    • Holliday Lake
    • Shenandoah National Park
    • First Landing State Park
    • Mt. Mitchell and Linville Gorge

Research and Capstone Experience

The spring semester capstone experience will be centered around Westhampton Lake. This water resource may be considered the heart of campus, but is it a heart in need of by-pass surgery? We will work closely with the Office of Sustainability to gather data on the lake and surrounding communities to propose and potentially implement new management strategies for this ecosystem.

This course, with its long-standing connection to the Earth Lodge living-learning community, has a rich history of producing meaningful capstone projects, such as: advocating for the Pony Express transportation shuttle and green bike programs at the University of Richmond, designing and implementing intrepretative signage around Westhampton Lake, promoting river access including the Gambles Mill trail, and creating a National Geographic Geostory about Pony Pasture.