Rapidan Fish Passage Project

We have witnessed a demise and a triumphant return of the American Shad to our waterways. We honor the citizens who refused to let them fade away.


J.B. Birdsall

Michael Collins

Monte Gingery

Tommy Hill

Don King

Mark Kington

John MacFarlane

David Perdue

Al Weed

The Rapidan Fish Passage Project (RFPP) will boost the health of mid-Atlantic anadromous fisheries through removal of the Rapidan Mill Dam, the #1 dam removal project in the Chesapeake Bay basin.

To complete this once in a generation conservation opportunity, American Climate Partners launched the Rapidan Partnership in 2019. The Partnership’s vision is to restore free flow to the Rapidan River by alteration of the Rapidan Mill Dam (RMD).

The Partnership is a consortium of local, state, federal partners, and other non-profit organizations – all agreeing to work together for many years to help restore mid-Atlantic anadromous fish populations via completion of this massive project.

Members of the Partnership currently include the US Fish and Wildlife Service, American Rivers, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the Virginia Department of Wildlife Resources, and Friends of the Rappahannock.

The vision motivating so many organizations is the potential restoration of 541 miles of the river.  Why does this matter?  Fish such as the American Shad spawn in rivers of the Virginia Piedmont but can’t climb up and over dams. These once plentiful fish were an essential food source for early American colonists. 400 years later, this project to bring them back has the potential to be nationally significant.  

According to Project Lead, Jeff Waldon:

“The successful Shad fishery recovery in the Potomac, Rappahannock, and James Rivers leads us to believe that a solid Shad and Striper (i.e. Rockfish) fishery can be restored well up the watershed to Madison Mills and possibly farther.”

Before dams and river pollution, they were the most valuable and important fishery in the Chesapeake Bay. Today, larval and juvenile Shad are a source of food for Rockfish. Rockfish are the most popular commercial and recreational finfish in the Bay, generating roughly $500 million in economic activity related to fishing expenditures, travel, lodging, and so on each year. In 2019 the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission (ASMFC) found that the Rockfish population was in trouble. Stocks have been in decline for some time, as has spawning success. Through this project, the Rapidan Community has an opportunity to be at the forefront of positive improvement for the village and the greater regional community and environment.

2022 Patrons Letter

A 2022 letter to RFPP Founders and Backers from executive director, Michael Collins, summarizes project progress through 2022. [PDF]

2024 Update

With the support of Rapidan Fish Passage Project (RFPP) Founders and Donors, Rapidan Mill Dam (RMA) was purchased by American Climate Partners (ACP) in late 2022. In mid-2023 the ACP Board of Directors determined that pursuit of an entrepreneurial funding solution, via creation of a dam removal mitigation bank, was not feasible. In late Summer 2023, NOAA and USFWS announced upcoming significant funds available for fish passage projects such as RFPP. A proposal was submitted to NOAA to fund dam removal + river restoration in November. A second duplicate LOI was submitted to USFWS in December. ACP is continuing to work through the USFWS solicitation in early 2024 while awaiting decision from NOAA. In addition, this year, dam safety studies and reports are being completed for the Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation.