by Daphne Cole, Blackstone, VA

Story prompt: Write your own story!

My first encounter with the James River was at Jamestown 4-H camp for a week the summer of 1963. Daily, we swam in the James and had swimming lessons along its banks. The bottom of the area was covered with mussels and I collected a handful of the live mussels as souvenirs, placing them in the pocket of my suitcase to take home. Imagine the horror my mother experienced, when she discovered dead mussels opened and slime stinking up my belongings. Who knew that mussels were living creatures requiring water!

Mussels were plentiful in 1963 but are now endangered in the James River. For just as mussels cannot survive without water as I discovered that summer, they require CLEAN water to survive. Mussels serve an essential function of cleaning the river of debris but the James River became overwhelmed with toxic materials from farming, construction and manufacturing.

After two summers at Jamestown 4-H camp, my third summer on the James River was canceled due to extensive fish kill which had a number of causes. The stench from the decaying bodies of the fish ended my last summer in Virginia on the James River.

Swimming in James River ended as well because the problem of pollution continued and a swimming pool was built eliminating direct contact with the James River. It is probably easier to learn to swim in a pool but a rather sterile experience compared to mussels underneath one’s toes!

My experiences on the James River impacted me to share its miracles with children and adults by volunteering in education experiences. It prompted me to work with government agencies to provide the funding and materials to restore the James River to its majesty for all living creatures.

Photos provided by Daphne Cole