Above the former site of Embrey Dam at Fredericksburg, Virginia, the Rappahannock River alternately glides gently over wide shallows, or rushes through rapids with rock gardens and dramatic boulders.
More than 4,200 forested acres stretching upstream through five counties has belonged since 1969 to the city, providing natural protection of Fredericksburg’s water supply.
But with more than a million people living within 30 miles of the property — and with two surrounding counties ranking among the nation’s fastest growing — these river lands were facing unprecedented development pressures.
In 2006, Fredericksburg City Council voted 6-0 to authorize a conservation easement to enhance the protection of its property and, thus, secure a safe water supply for future generations. Following intensive efforts to document the condition of the lands and finalize legal reviews of the individual parcels, the easement was recorded in March, 2007.
The Nature Conservancy, Virginia Outdoors Foundation and Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries co-hold the easement, which conserves more than 32 miles of riverfront along the Rappahannock and Rapidan.
The Conservancy contributed $1.6 million for the city to endow a full-time river steward. Project funding came from the Virginia Aquatic Resources Trust Fund, which the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers administers with the Conservancy.
With the 2004 breaching and subsequent removal of Embrey Dam, the Rappahannock became the longest free-flowing river in the Chesapeake Bay watershed. Along with water quality, the easement will protect historic spawning grounds for migratory fish such as American and hickory shad, blueback herring, alewife and striped bass that — for the first time in more than 150 years — can travel unimpeded up the entire river, from the bay to the Blue Ridge.