Rapidan Institute

Rapidan Fish Passage Project

The Rapidan Institute began working on the Rapidan Fish Passage project in 2020 with the goal to restore 541 miles of river habitat in Virginia. Restoration efforts are primarily focused on the potential alteration of the dam at the Rapidan Mill as it blocks the movement of important fish species such as shad, herring, and striped bass. The dam, which has not been actively in use for many years, is a large concrete structure that stands a total of 11 feet high, 12 feet deep, and spans the entire width of the river. Given the size and layout of the dam, it is completely impassable for numerous fish species to swim up and downstream to spawn and reproduce. This, in turn, affects the stability of fish populations in the Chesapeake Bay watershed and ultimately hinders recreational fishing. While some locals feel that the dam should not undergo alterations because it signifies a valuable piece of history here in Orange County, the Center along with several other scientific organizations believes that the dam is doing more harm than good.

With such a valuable opportunity to help restore many miles of river habitat, the Rapidan Institute continues to work diligently on this project. Given that the project is a huge undertaking it is still in the planning phase. However, the project continues to build momentum and excitement. One of the major accomplishments for 2021 was the acquisition of a new partner, Ecotone Inc. Located in Forest Hill, MD, Ecotone Inc. is a design-build firm that is working with the Rapidan Institute to plan and execute a mitigation bank so the project can capture ecological credit benefits of restoring the river.

Funds from the mitigation bank, should the bank be approved, only cover a portion of the total fish passage project expenses. Scoping, community outreach, and environmental education are a few examples of the costs that we have no way to cover except through grants and donations. Please consider donating to the Rapidan Institute to support this once in a generation project.

As of this year, a preliminary plan was developed and proposed to the Interagency Review Team, a committee of public agency representatives that determine approval of a plan for the project. While waiting for the project’s approval, the Rapidan Institute has continued to work collaboratively with several other organizations, such as the US Fish and Wildlife Service and the Virginia Department of Wildlife Resources, to further the program’s mission. In the Spring of 2022, mussel survey work will be conducted by the Conservation Management Institute of Virginia Tech. If you are interested you can stay up to date with this project via our website and social media!