14 Winter 2014 ;
arper’s Ferry, West Virginia: There is a lot
of history here—and a lot of water.
I can’t drive through the town on U.S.
Route 340 without stopping to walk across
the pedestrian bridge spanning the
Potomac River there. It’s a religious kind of
thing for me, walking across the nation’s
river, hearing and feeling the energy from
the rolling water.
I look downstream at the hole this great river
carved through the Blue Ridge Mountains.
It’s an awesome sight. Thomas Jefferson
wrote, “The passage of the Potomac through
the Blue Ridge is perhaps one of the most
stupendous scenes in nature.”
The river water below me came from rainwater that flowed across or through six
million acres of land. The land and the soil
within are the regulators of the entire
hydrologic cycle. Land, with robust
healthy soil, produces clean water.Just
downstream to the right, the water from
another two million acres joins the
Potomac; it’s the Shenandoah River. The
farm I live on with my wife Jeanne, our dog
Dexter, and a commercial herd of beef cattle is part of the beginning of that river 135
I have a picture of Harpers Ferry in my
office in Swoope, Virginia. It was taken
from Maryland Heights, and it shows the
two rivers coming together. I like to show
it to people and tell them that the water
flowing across and through our farm empties into the South Fork of the Shenandoah
River. I tell them, “The Chesapeake Bay
begins here, in Swoope, Virginia.” The
restoration of the river and the Bay begins
with what we do on our farm.
The Bay starts in tens of thousands places
just like ours throughout the 64,000-
square-mile watershed. Every person and
every tributary make a difference, and every
person and every tributary will have to participate in order to achieve a restored Bay.
All of the tributaries joining together to
form the Potomac River overcame the
physical barrier of the Blue Ridge
Mountains. All of us, joining together, can
overcome the social barriers preventing a
restored Bay—apathy and ignorance.
We are on an ambitious path to clean up
our streams. It’s called the Chesapeake
Clean Water Blueprint. It’s working. We’ve
reduced nitrogen and phosphorus pollu-
tion levels by half since the 1980s; despite
the fact that the population in the Bay
watershed increased thirty percent.
In fact, according to CBF’s recent report,
The Economic Benefits of Cleaning Up the
Chesapeake, a restored Bay will generate
$130 billion for our economy annually—
$22 billion more per year than not achieving a restored Bay. This is incredible.
Quite simply, there are no downsides to a
As I stand here on the bridge over the
Potomac looking downstream, I see the
sediment-laden waters of the Shenandoah
joining the nation’s river. When I see
brown water, I lament that so much more
needs to be done.
Someone upstream didn’t understand, or
didn’t care, that what they do on their
land profoundly affects what’s in the
water and everyone downstream. It’s
going to take all of us to reach every person, every tributary.
u To contact Bobby Whitescarver, visit his website at www.gettingmoreontheground.com.
By Robert N. Whitescarver
The Shenandoah and the Potomac Rivers
meet at Harper’s Ferry, West Virginia.
Robert “Bobby” Whitescarver,
a District Conservationist
for USDA until his retirement,
is a farmer in the Shenandoah
Valley of Virginia.
We are on an ambitious path
to clean up our streams.
It’s called the Chesapeake
Clean Water Blueprint.