Archive for Ivy Creek

#115 South Fork Rivanna Reservoir Stores Our Dirt, Too

December 11, 2008

There’s a lot of different ways to look at our diminishing resources — running out of clean water, clean air, and …. good dirt?  We might do well to look past the problem of the South Fork Rivanna Reservoir filling up with dirt — and try to understand the causes of — and consequences of losing dirt from the landscapes upstream.

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This show originally aired on December 11, 2008  on “The Rivanna Rambler,” a weekly public affairs show airing every Thursday at 11:55 a.m. on WTJU 91.1 FM or

There is slow steady winter rain that’s keeping temperatures hovering around forty degrees and the skies dark with winter gloom.  But the rain is good — for our groundwater, for our reservoirs, and it is good for the plants and animals that need this most essential resource to survive.  This rain is also filling our rivers – and I would wager – sending a good amount of water into the South Fork Rivanna Reservoir, along with a healthy amount of dirt.

Now, that dirt is slowly but surely filling the reservoir – each year, decreasing its capacity from 1 to 5 per cent since it was completed in 1969.  In another example of our human short-sightedness, like many public works installations of the era, the design life of this reservoir was only fifty years, at which time the reservoir would be filled to over 50% of its capacity.

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#107 South Fork Rivanna Reservoir Task Force

October 16, 2008

The South Fork Rivanna Reservoir, built in 1966, is continuing to silt in from upstream erosion.  The South Fork Rivanna Reservoir Task Force is examining the condition of the reservoir and is seeking public input regarding its uses and fate.

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This show originally aired on October 5, 2006 and as an encore on October 9, 2008  on “The Rivanna Rambler,” a weekly public affairs show airing every Thursday at 11:55 a.m. on WTJU 91.1 FM or

Almost twice a month for the last couple of months, a small group of citizens and representatives of various stakeholders has been meeting to discuss the fate of the South Fork Ravenna Reservoir.  The members of this task force represent the variety of uses and benefits that the reservoir now affords this community.

Built in 1966 to augment the storage capacity at the Ragged Mountain Reservoir, it now also provides miles of flatwater for varsity and community rowers.  Fishermen come from surrounding counties to launch jon boats at all times of day and night.  Novice canoeists learn their first skills on its calm dark waters.  The upper reaches of Ivy Creek consistently offer sightings of beaver, green and great blue herons, turtles, and, sometimes even bobcats.

The reservoir also provides an immutable kind of pleasure and solace that only an expanse of water can do – one that can be appreciated looking upstream or down while crossing its bridges, or for the fortunate few who live along its shores, from livings rooms and decks.  Out of sight – and out of the minds of most – is what lies beneath, the remains of a small but thriving African American community at Hydraulic Mills which was vacated and submerged when the waters rose after the dam construction.

The aesthetic, recreational, and ecological benefits were never the primary purpose of building this reservoir, but as the community contemplates its future, it is these very benefits that the Task Force has been asked to consider by the four chairs

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#100 Learning to see the flowers through the trees

August 28, 2008

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Photo courtesy of Rose Brown

Learning to identify the native flora and fauna has had a rich tradition rooted in our American history. The study of natural history starts can be accomplished one flower at a time.

Photo of cranefly orchid, Tipularia discolor, courtesy of Rose Brown.

This show originally aired in August 28, 2008 on “The Rivanna Rambler,” a weekly public affairs show airing every Thursday at 11:55 a.m. on WTJU 91.1 FM or

When Teddy Roosevelt, known to be both big game hunter and amateur botanical collector, was asked to give an account of his interest and experience as an amateur naturalist, he replied, “The former has always been very real; and the latter, unfortunately, very limited.” I imagine most of us amateur naturalists feel pretty much the same way: it’s nigh impossible to imagine knowing very many organisms to the species level with the latest count around 2 million named and millions more suspected.

So we amateurs fall somewhere on the spectrum between curious and crazed, seeking to manage the acquisition of knowledge in ways that personally give pleasure. Birders pursue life lists

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#79 Rocking Around Charlottesville

On a field trip with the training group for the Rivanna Master Naturalists, students learn see 1.2 billion years of history in five stops around Charlottesville, just looking at rocks.
This show originally aired on March 6, 2008 on “The Rivanna Rambler,” a weekly public affairs show airing every Thursday at 11:55 a.m. on WTJU 91.1 FM or

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March 6, 2008

It’s a whirlwind geologic tour of the Virginia, and it all takes place within five square miles in Charlottesville. We’re a group of Rivanna Master Naturalists, standing before a rock outcrop that borders the rough boat launch into Ivy Creek just upstream of the Woodlands Road bridge. Tom Biggs, Professor of Geology at UVA, invites us to use the rock hammers he’s brought along, stepping forward himself to take a swing. A chunk of rock cleaves off, dropping into his practiced hand.

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#71 Learning Trees at the Ivy Creek Natural Area

Learning the names of trees and plants at the Ivy Creek Natural Area provides the beginning of a lifetime of naming the things we see and may eventually hold dear.

This show originally aired on January 3, 2008 on “The Rivanna Rambler,” a weekly public affairs show airing every Thursday at 11:55 a.m. on WTJU 91.1 FM or

The School Trail at Ivy Creek Natural Area got its name because it’s just right for taking a group of kids on a 45-minute guided walk in the woods, something the Ivy Creek Foundation guides have been doing free of charge since 1980. It’s three-tenths of a mile long, traverses both field and forest, and ends up at the Barn for a closer look at natural history artifacts and exhibits. On a sunny fall morning, I’m with a some kindergarteners from Free Union Country Day School, so young, and so very small compared to their teacher, myself, and Tom Walsh, our guide for the day.

Though Tom claims he’s not very experienced, I know he’s been around the trail with kids before when he stops at the row of trees in the middle of the parking area and asks, “Now, who is the leader here?” in a firm but kindly way letting them know the rules of the trail. Follow the leader, don’t take anything from the Natural Area, and stop and listen when he has something to show.

And from this moment on, it is all show and tell, starting with an inspection of the dogwood’s red berries. “And what happens to the berries after the birds eat them?” They all look at him, silent, until he says, “Well, the seed inside the berry gets pooped out, and this is where a new tree grows.” The word “poop” gets their attention, and suddenly they are all making noises and thinking this adult is OK after all. We start down the mowed trail through the native grasses stopping at clump of thistle, thigh high with seeds scattered from their brown heads. Tom bends one down so the kids can inspect it, telling them that just a month ago, goldfinches had built their late summer nests here and raised and fed their young. Empty of both nest and food, we use our imaginations.

We enter the woods where the School Trail veers off to the right and begin to learn about some of the 20 most common trees in Virginia. You can get your own guide from the Ivy Creek website and with the signs marking the trees, this could be a self-guided tour. But today, we have Tom introducing the holly tree with its pointy green leaves. Musclewood, its sinewy trunk easy to identify. High as the sky, we look up to see seed pods on tulip poplars. Stopping in front of another tree, its smooth gray bark scarred by initials cut by a knife, Tom tells the kids that it’s just like cutting the skin of the tree, and asks “You wouldn’t like someone to do that to you, would you?”

We traverse the hillside, making plenty of healthy noise pushing through the dry leaves, our learning stops getting shorter as attention spans wane. By now, each child has picked up a small branch to use as walking stick, or to rake leaves or tap the trees. “Will we see any animals?” Tom shakes his head slowly, not wanting to diminish their joy of being outside in the woods which is, along with the learning, the point of our being here today.

It is difficult for me recall exactly what I knew, or was taught, when I was the age of these kids. Blessed with an abundance of outdoor time, did I know the names of the trees and plants I encountered? Though naming something is not the same as truly knowing it – this requires understanding habits and ecology — without names, we cannot learn or converse about what we see, nor be specific about that which we hope to protect.

“Now, what’s this one called?” Tom asks in front of a tree we’ve seen before. “Hollywood!” shouts one of the kids, which seems as good a mnemonic as any for a tree that is ever green. I hope that the trees these young children have learned to name may become the basis of knowledge based in memories of this walk in the woods at Ivy Creek Natural Area.

2008 Copyright Leslie B. Middleton 

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