The Piedmont Environmental Council (PEC) recently highlighted the Moormans River’s status as an official Scenic River of Virginia by installing several large road signs along its path in Western Albemarle. The new signs replace older ones that had been taken down due to bridge construction or had otherwise disappeared over the years since the river first received the designation in 1988.
“We had hoped to replace the signs last year, which was the 50th anniversary of the Virginia Scenic Rivers Act, but it ended up taking a full year to get them made,” said Kat Imhoff, a senior conservation fellow at the PEC who spearheaded the effort. “It was the craziest thing, very bureaucratic with VDOT involved, but I give Robbie Morris at Performance Signs all the credit. He was Mr. Persistence.”
Three dozen rivers in Virginia have been deemed “scenic” in a process that requires an act of the Virginia legislature to complete. The program is managed by the state’s Department of Conservation and Recreation (DCR), which evaluates rivers using 13 criteria. The DCR surveys river resources and attributes such as water quality, recreational access, historic features, and quality of fisheries, and gathers support from local government officials and state agencies. The Moormans received its approval after a concerted public relations effort by the PEC.
“Back in the 1980s, we [the PEC] formed Friends of the Moormans River and did things like stream cleanup day to get people excited and help the landowners feel not threatened by the designation,” said Imhoff. “It’s an incredibly important river because it’s part of the drinking water system for the city of Charlottesville, the urban ring of the county, and the University of Virginia. For those of us who like to be on the river by boat or like to go fly fishing, this is our river and it’s an amazing thing to have in our back yard.” The 14-mile Moormans runs from Sugar Hollow eastward and joins the Mechums River near Free Union to become the Rivanna River north of Charlottesville.
Road signs are not cheap items, and Imhoff secured outside financial support for the project. The six new Scenic River signs cost $9,000, which was donated by Albemarle county resident and prominent political donor Sonjia Smith. “I hope that reminding folks about the scenic designation of the Moormans is going to reinvigorate local community engagement,” said Imhoff. “For example, the Friends of the Moormans River has been an informal association of interested landowners, but could also become an advisory committee officially recognized by the DCR and be more regularly involved in being a voice for the Moormans.”
Albemarle Board of Supervisors White Hall District representative Ann Mallek helped unveil the new sign at the Millington Road bridge, and she commented on her love of the river. “This is an example of how we all build upon the work that was done by our parents and grandparents fifty years ago and before, making sure the people of today have an appreciation for the natural resources we have,” she said. “Listen to the song of this water. I stop and listen every time I come here. It really connects us with this wonderful land that we have out here.”
Imhoff is thrilled that her persistence has finally yielded results. “With the pandemic, more and more residents and visitors have been accessing the trails above the [Sugar Hollow] reservoir,” she said. “I hope it intrigues folks to see the scenic river signs and that they will dig a little deeper to find out more.”