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Firm seeks lease at Stafford park on Rappahannock for ecological center

Kayakers on the Rappahannock River [Photo: Friends of the Rappahannock]

The Rappahannock River Ecological Park, also known as RIVERE, has approached Stafford County leaders to create an ecological center on the banks of the Rappahannock River.

Company representatives made their case at a meeting of the county’s Community and Economic Development Committee earlier his month to make it case that the park would be a help with tourism in the community as well as its importance in ecological research.

RIVERE is seeking to lease a portion of Duff McDuff Park which is currently owned by the county due to its position on the Rappahannock River. Duff McDuff is currently home to the local Patawomeck Tribe, which is currently building up a cultural center. The 60-acre plot of land that the organization seeks to lease is adjacent to the tribe’s land. The land owned by the county has been assessed to be valued at $83,900.

RIVERE has already obtained a 14-acre site near Duff McDuff from the University of Mary Washington.

Should the county agree to lease the plot to RIVERE, the organization plans to set up a center dedicated to ecological research and education. Among its efforts, RIVERE will place sensors along the river and its tributaries, effectively creating the first “smart river” using AI technology. The goal of this transformation is to carefully monitor those areas in real-time for pollutants that could endanger the river’s health.

The data could be used to identify pollution sources and create responses and measures through predictive modeling to inform and guide authorities on the challenges that freshwater bodies deal with regularly. The sensors would be installed along the length of the Rappahannock River to the organization’s headquarters at the Chesapeake Bay.

The organization would work alongside Stafford County as part of the Virginia Smart Community Testbed, which is focused on the development of new technologies. Representatives for RIVERE also mentioned potential benefits for the county in tourism, not just of the center itself but of other county sites of interest, such as Chatham Manor.

Some concerns were made by members of the committee, which included Garrisonville District Supervisor Pamela Yeung, who had questions about the effect the sensors themselves would have on the surrounding ecosystem and the affordability for local students to visit the new eco-center.

Representatives of RIVERE responded that they were making formal relationships with many public and private organizations and could partner with local youth organizations such as the 4-H Club, which was one way they could create a route for affordable, educational tours for local students.

Falmouth District Supervisor Meg Bohmke questioned the organization’s representatives about those partnerships when she noticed that the George Washington Regional Commission was listed as having a partnership with RIVERE.

Bohmke sat on the board of the GWRC and reported that its board had seen no notice of a partnership with RIVERE. While both she and the organization clarified that the agreement with the GWRC was on the staff level Bohmke suggested that a presentation to its board might be in order.

Plans have been made to hold more talks between RIVERE and the county before it goes to the Board of Supervisors. In the meantime, the organization plans to compile more information in order to answer questions that the committee may have going forward.

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