Upper James River Home Rivers Initiative


The Upper James River watershed drains more than 3,000 square miles of western Virginia encompassing 10 counties and hundreds of tributary streams -- the lifeblood of the James River. The majority of these mountain streams and high valley creeks historically sustained abundant populations of native brook trout and provided a steady source of clean water to the communities and urban areas along the James River and the Chesapeake Bay. Today, the remaining intact populations of native brook trout—Virginia’s official state fish and the only salmonid native to Virginia—are relegated to isolated mountain headwater streams. Habitat fragmentation, changes in land use, poor agricultural practices and general water quality degradation are to blame for the demise of this iconic Appalachian species.   

Landowners and farmers in the Upper James are a segment of the agricultural community that often get overlooked by state and federal agencies due to limited staffing, distance from existing staff, and because the influence of these headwater streams on downstream water quality is so often underestimated. Trout Unlimited will use Virginians’ historic respect for brook trout to inspire conservation activities.

To address this degradation and underserved area, TU as well as stakeholders and partners has initiated a TU Home Rivers Initiative (HRI) in the Upper James River watershed. This initiative is TU’s second comprehensive watershed-scale restoration effort in Virginia that focuses the efforts of TU’s skilled national staff, its volunteer base and its many partners on restoring and protecting the coldwater streams in the Upper James. 

Specifically in 2016, TU staff will begin on-the-stream efforts on several restoration sites on the Jackson River and Back Creek. One project on upper Back Creek will entail restoring a section of stream where erosion has shifted the channel, leaving a fence suspended over the creek.


Using brook trout conservation as a rallying theme, TU’s HRI programs take a watershed-scale approach to protect the highest quality habitat, reconnect existing fragmented habitat, restore degraded habitat, and sustain the progress made by educating and motivating a future generation of environmental stewards.

Using healthy brook trout populations as an indicator of overall watershed health, the Upper James HRI will restore the stream habitat and water quality of targeted high priority creeks in the watershed to benefit brook trout, other native fishes and riparian organisms while also engaging local volunteers and students to track progress towards that goal and foster a new sense of community ownership for these environmental improvements. 


The Jackson River (Upper) and the Bullpasture River, two important tributaries to the upper James River, present a unique opportunity for TU to expand its reach in Virginia. The headwaters of these watersheds harbor some of the finest populations of brook trout in Virginia, but the main stem rivers have suffered from unabated livestock access and lack of riparian buffers due in part to a history of flooding and poor post- flood recovery efforts. 

These channelization efforts have left the rivers laterally unstable, and where channel work pushed material into lateral berms alongside the stream, prevent floodwaters from accessing the floodplain. These conditions exacerbate damage when flooding occurs because riparian buffers cannot become established on unstable streambanks with active erosion and lateral channel. 

The first year of the effort saw TU staff assessing a number of potential project sites, and establishing outreach efforts. Several projects are in the design stage and work will begin in 2016. 

Staff Contact

Sammy Vest, Project Coordinator, svest@tu.org

Seth Coffman, Project Manager, scoffman@tu.org


Author of this Page

Mark Taylor, Eastern Communications Director



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