THE JAMES RIVER IS A KEY to understanding Richmond, Virginia. It runs through the city and defines Richmond’s identity: It connects us recreationally, commercially, and personally to the natural world. Through the practice of slow journalism, we’ve sought to understand these connections between the city and the river, and to tell the story of the James through the people of Richmond.
We looked at it through a variety of lenses. We started with the history of the river, studied animal life on the James, and examined the role of the James River Park systems in the lives of Richmonders. We mapped conversations and walks through the city, starting with our own home here at University of Richmond.
The University, in fact, is inextricably linked to the river. Our beloved Westhampton Lake (above), the centerpiece of campus life, flows out Little Westham creek to a railroad canal off campus, which flows into the James above Pony Pasture.
In addition to this physical connection, Richmond students also look to the river for both recreation and scholarship. Dr. Todd Lookingbill, a landscape ecologist who chairs the Geography department, teaches a class on the James. As he explained to us in an interview. Dr. Lookingbill uses the river to get students excited about the geography and ecology in their own backyard.
Our reporting team—Jennie Trejo, Hunter Ross and I—are just as excited to bring our diverse academic backgrounds to this project. Jennie, a sophomore with a passion for journalism, is a raft guide at home in Colorado. Hunter is a senior, double majoring in leadership studies and journalism and always looking for ways to get outside and explore Richmond.
For me, this project has been a long goodbye. I am a senior, majoring in geography. In addition to studying the James, I’ve also rowed on it for four years as part of the University’s club crew team. I now have to say goodbye to the river that made my college experience. Less than a month from now, I’ll be off on my next adventure, falling in love with other rivers on other continents. So I’ve been excited to walk the banks of the river and give the James one last piece of my heart.
Exploring the river through slow journalism was like learning new things about an old friend, or discovering the childhoods of your grandparents. I’ve seen the James more clearly, just in time to say goodbye.