After a well earned weekend off, the Footprints team hit the trail Monday for the second half of the their journey. They rendezvoused at o-dark-thirty (okay, really just 6:30am) at VCU OAP, loaded into vans and headed west on I-64. Guided by VCU fish biologist Dr. Steve McIninch and Dave Hoppler, they spent the morning near Crabtree Falls comparing the fish community they had studied in the tidewater James with that of the upper Tye River, a tributary of the James. In the lower James last week they observed 10 species, 4 of which were non-native. On the Tye they observed Brook Trout, Rosyside Dace and Mountain Redbelly Dace, and a large American Eel. Check out Freshwater Illustrated’s “Hidden Rivers” for a further taste of how spectacular the fish communities of Appalachian streams can be. In total, they saw eight fish species in the Tye, none overlapping with the lower James, all native. From there the course traveled to Montebello State Fish Hatchery where approximately 60,000 pounds of brook, and non-native rainbow and brown trout are grown each year in outdoor raceways that are supplied with water mostly from on-site springs.
After lunch the students loaded the last supplies into their backpacks and hiked the short but fairly steep trail up Spy Rock, at ~4,000 feet above sea level. This rocky outcrop provides a 360 degree panoramic view of the Blue Ridge. Tuesday the Footprints course will traverse along ridge tops through a wilderness area to the summit of The Priest, which rises above Crabtree Falls and the Tye River. From The Priest the students will follow the path of a raindrop falling on the ridge, down first and second order streams to the confluence with the James River, and down the James to Richmond and home.