Partner meetings have helped to shape the Initiative by revealing guiding principles and parsing the vision into two core directions.
Throughout December 2012, the Envision the James team conducted a series of three partner workshops in Williamsburg, Richmond, and Lynchburg. A total of 93 individuals attended these meetings, offering the diverse perspectives of localities, state and federal agencies, non-profit organizations, universities, and businesses. As practitioners working in the James River watershed, they provided insights into which potential vision concepts were most feasible for the James.
The conversation began with a review of potential vision concepts, based on successful projects across the country. The concepts addressed recreation, tourism, conservation, and wildlife habitat restoration opportunities in the watershed. Participants were then asked to provide feedback through a survey on how much potential each concept has for further development and implementation in the James River watershed. The concepts with the strongest potential for each theme were the following:
1. Recreational Trails and River Access. Link existing and planned land trails, parks, and scenic roadways to form a continuous network along the river
2. Heritage and Geo-tourism. Identify development areas or districts for specific waterfront heritage and place-based tourism activities unique to each district
3. Conservation and Restoration. Focus land conservation efforts on large land parcels along the James River corridor where willing landowners want to establish vegetative buffers for viewshed protection, wildlife, water quality or other purposes
4. Wildlife. Build upon existing state, federal and non-profit wildlife refuges, management areas, and reserves to enhance wildlife habitat conservation
Results from the group polling sessions were helpful in revealing differences between the Upper, Middle and Lower river communities, which will be important in guiding future vision implementation efforts.
The conversation continued as participants were broken into discussion groups around these themes to further explore needs and opportunities both within and across the themes. These breakout groups were designed to facilitate a wide ranging discussion of what approaches participants thought might contribute to a successful conservation vision beyond or separate from the concepts presented by the ETJ team. The group conversations sparked new ideas to advance these and other concepts; and provided important insights into locally supported projects and potential implementation challenges.
This forum allowed practitioners to assess the local and regional challenges and benefits of different approaches, which, in some cases, led groups to finally settle on concepts and ideas that were not necessarily those most popular during the group polls. The groups identified significant details, experiences and process oriented observations that helped to clarify what refinements and steps might be needed to launch successful local and regional initiatives.
These conversations, in particular, revealed important principles that will guide the ETJ initiative into the future:
- Broad Community Support. A broad, community base of support is essential to make Envision the James goals a reality. Where possible, conservation initiatives should make use of existing plans, programs and resources.
- Leadership and Organizational Strength. It is vitally important to have a broad-based coalition of groups to provide ongoing refinements and implementation of chosen vision initiatives. The ETJ team together with coalition leaders can form bridges across multiple agencies and organizations and help plan and orchestrate sustained efforts on a common set of priorities to maximize results.
- Focused Initiatives with Economic Benefits. Converging some of the concepts to shape and mutually reinforce conservation and economic benefits at the community and regional levels will help achieve a more concentrated focus and successful outcomes.
- Demonstrating and Communicating Ongoing Results. There is a strong need to demonstrate tangible results in the near future and to continually communicate the significance and connections that individual activities and projects represent toward achieving long term Envision the James goals.
Additionally, participants’ ideas and recommendations helped the Envision the James initiative leaders distill the wealth of opportunities down into two core directions that formed the basis of the vision. The Vision was released in the Spring of 2013 and was followed by additional public feedback through in-person meetings and surveys.