The words "active stewardship" appear in the closing paragraph of the article on paddling the South Anna/Pamunkey Rivers by Kate Naughten (Bay Journal, October 1997). Stewardship is what is not projected in this particular piece of journalism.
I was very disturbed by the picture of the canoeist out of her canoe looking for fossils on the cliffs of the South Anna River. I was just as disturbed by the following statement in the article: "Another unusual feature of the river is found about two miles upstream of the Route 301 boat landing, where erosion has exposed an unusual site - an old clay "morel" deposit (Does the writer mean "marl," a calcium deposit, or mushrooms?) that spills out countless layers of fossilized and crushed seashells - treasures from the sea floor millions of years ago. Here, paddlers can get out of their boats and get a close-up look at the bounty stuck in these clay walls."
Although the writer does not advocate that paddlers trespass on private property, that is exactly the impression one gets when reading this article. Is it good stewardship digging into the sides of an already eroded riverbank for fossils and telling thousands of readers the exact location of the spot? Is good stewardship tramping around on the property of someone else? Does the owner of the property know about this? Or does it matter as long as the paddlers have a good time?
I do not own property along these two rivers, but if I did, I would be very upset. I live on the banks of the Mattaponi River and canoe on it from time to time. If a canoeist came by here and decided to sample my pawpaw or apple trees, I would certainly not like it, and I think other landowners would feel the same.
I would like to point out that good stewardship for the citizens of Virginia (and anyone else) is respect for the rivers, its vegetation and wildlife, as well as respect for the landowners on either side of the rivers. This means getting permission to go on the property of landowners and not advocating the gathering of such "bounty" as the writer referred to in her article. There are many people who would get in a canoe just to look for this "bounty" so they could bring handfuls home to show off to their friends!
I have been reading the Bay Journal for a number of years and have found the articles to be timely and informative. However, a correction needs to be made concerning this story to maintain the high quality of your publication.
Marion R. Jones
Kate Naughten replies:
The Alliance for the Chesapeake Bay does highlight the importance of stewardship for the water and land as an integral part of any hands-on activity it sponsors, including the canoe trips. The Alliance recognizes and respects private property we may encounter on many of these trips, and we make every effort to ensure that we're either welcomed on the land where we pull in, or, if permission cannot be secured in advance - that we stay on the shoreline. It should be noted that the highlights of many of these trips include stops along the way to "see" interesting historical or culturally significant sights.
In the case of the South Anna trip, participants were photographed "examining" the fossils, not taking or destroying them. These were located on a broad shoreline along the riverbank. In the case of the pawpaw fruit, it was dangling from a tree overhanging the water. These trips are designed to heighten people's interest in preserving the rivers and participants come away from each trip understanding that our region is a large drainage basin, and that water runs across, through and under many types of many land - private and public - before it ends up in the rivers and Bay. While doing so, we do not encourage the participants to run, walk or trample these many types of land.