Walking around Westhampton Lake, it is so easy to forget that there was a time, not long ago, that it did not exist. Despite only making up 15% of the entire Little Westham Creek watershed, it is what University of Richmond students see as water’s ultimate drainage point. We look out after rainy days and remark upon how high the lake, and its connected waterways, have become.
Looking out over the lake, my mind’s eye is struck with the image of our beautiful campus landscape without the existence of our Westhampton Lake. It is almost a tradition for humanity to sacrifice natural elements for more “useful” structures such as buildings, roads, dams, and the like. It seems to me that when most of our modern society wishes to alter the landscape, they do so in a way to make it ascetically pleasing, without considering the geographic implications of their actions. In my imaginary and lake-free campus, Little Westham creek has been taken over for the purpose of construction, not only altering our residential watershed, but severing all ties with it to our University. However, it is just as possible that in the absence of our pretty, man-made, lake that the water flowed directly into our “Little Westham” creek, widening its banks and keeping the watershed intact as we know it.
Rivers have worked endlessly for hundreds of thousands of years to shape not only our intimate communities, but our states, our regions, our country. Recent environmentalist movements have raised awareness of our (human beings) capacity to destroy the fruits of such long, tedious, unrelenting, labor. However, what is rarely acknowledged is how seemingly helpful environmental acts, like building a lake as an additional ecosystem for geese, fish, turtles, and our lone great heron, can alter the path of great, or potentially great, bodies of water. Planting rows of trees in an attempt to offset major global deforestation or paving large amounts of land to build rows upon rows of solar panels for renewable energy have their incentives, but must be careful not to over-construct, for risk of dismantling the network of waterways that have been shaping our nation much longer than we have.