For more than 40 years, the James River Association (JRA) has been working to restore the James River to full health. The organization was founded when a group of concerned citizens banded together in 1976 to restore and protect the river at a time when toxic chemical contamination led to the James being known as one of the most polluted waterways in America. JRA has grown over the last four decades to include watershed restoration, student education, advocacy, and community conservation efforts that have improved the overall health of the James from a grade of D- to a B- in JRA’s biennial State of the James report. This remarkable improvement garnered the river international recognition through winning the 2019 Thiess International Riverprize.
Despite this progress, JRA’s work is far from being done. One of the most effective ways to continue this progress is to help people envision and truly understand what has been lost in the degradation of the James River and what we stand to gain in achieving a Grade A James. Enter JRA’s new James River Virtual Reality Experience, created in part through funding from the National Park Service Chesapeake Bay Office.
In the span of just over three minutes, the Experience takes you underwater in the James, beginning with the pristine state of the river that existed before English settlers colonized Jamestown. The water is clear, the river is teaming with aquatic life, and grass beds are thriving and abundant. The video then advances to the mid-1970’s as the river turns brown, murky, and devoid of most organisms. It paints a vivid picture of a polluted and neglected James, and sets the stage for why it was so necessary to focus a concerted effort on restoring the James to a fully fishible, swimmable, and drinkable river for all. The video then transports the viewer to today’s river, much improved from the 1970s but still not back to its earlier pristine health, and ends with a call to action to help protect and connect people to the river by supporting JRA’s work.
As the first of its kind for a river, JRA created the virtual experience as a unique way to engage the public, provide an exciting resource for student education, and bring the James – and its full potential – to life.
Joseph Cathey, Founder of Capital Interactive, expresses his excitement for producing the video: “We knew we wanted to tell the story of the river, which meant lots of research – and animating it from the ground up using 3D software typically used on Hollywood films. In doing so, I think we were able to capture that sense of wonder and responsibility that comes along with viewing some of nature’s most incredible underwater scenes.”
On Wednesday, June 17, JRA is offering a limited-space webinar launch to unveil the James River VR Experience, as well as an overview of how and why the video was produced, featuring aforementioned Joseph Cathey. Attendees can sign up to join the webinar, receive a link to view the 360-degree 3D video, and be entered in a drawing to win a VR cardboard headset for an enhanced viewing experience. Winners will be announced during the webinar.
ABOUT JAMES RIVER ASSOCIATION: The James River Association is a member-supported nonprofit organization founded in 1976 to serve as a guardian and voice for the James River. Throughout the James River’s 10,000 square mile watershed, the James River Association works toward its vision of a fully healthy James River supporting thriving communities. The James River Association believes that “when you change the James, the James changes you”. With offices in Lynchburg, Richmond, Williamsburg, and Scottsville, the James River Association is committed to protecting the James River and connecting people to it. For more information visit www.thejamesriver.org.