River Rats… rejoice! A new camera is now live streaming straight from the middle of the James River in downtown Richmond, giving river lovers a spectacular live look at the water — from the epicenter of the action.
8News partnered with Friends of the James River Park, with assistance from Riverside Outfitters and Terrain360, to install the camera beneath the T. Tyler Potterfield Bridge — which connects Brown’s Island to the RVA Free Climbing Wall on the Southside Richmond shoreline — to relay a live feed straight back to the 8News “James River Watch Cam” web page.
Josh Stutz, executive director of Richmond-based nonprofit Friends of the James River Park, says the biggest motivation for installing the camera was to spread river safety awareness and elevate the concept that rivers can be unpredictable — and dangerous.
“It’s not the same river every day,” Stutz explained. “I think that’s really the key to it — is that it changes. The levels go up and down, the water temperature changes. And those all mean different things for different types of recreation.”
The camera’s installation comes just under a year after two women died on the James on Memorial Day when their group of 12 floating down the river found themselves swept over a historically dangerous feature just before the James E. Willey Memorial Bridge, the so-called “drowning machine” — Bosher’s Dam.
Whether you’re planning to float on tubes, kayak, canoe, paddleboard, raft, or just go hang out — Stutz hopes the new camera and the river information given alongside it will help people to be more informed, so they can better plan their trip to ensure they have fun while staying safe.
“The number of accidents on the dams is extremely high,” Stutz said. “I would say that part of that is folks just not knowing the hazards, or not fully understanding what they’re up against out there. This is for the average person who doesn’t know much but sees people out there and wants to join in on that good time, but who doesn’t have the experience to just look out there and tell [if it is safe].”
Alongside daily outdoor activities, with the camera’s positioning, Stutz says viewers will be able to see how the river dramatically changes across different water levels.
“Water could even get close to that camera at some point depending on how bad the river floods,” Stutz said. “From that camera, you’ll see all sorts of activity on Belle Isle, you’ll see folks crossing the bridge. And then, right where that sits, there are actually rafters and kayakers that come right under the bridge right there.”
Stutz said the camera is part of an effort to build a “broader culture of awareness” around safety on the James, and compared the river report now included on the 8News weather segment — to the morning surf report given in beachside communities. Included, are the river temperature and level, as well as any potential safety information for the day.
A basic guide for those interested in going out on the water is that for most activities, a river level below five feet is considered less hazardous. Stutz explained that when the water rises above five feet, the rapids pick up and the current begins to move faster. According to the Friends of James River Park safety rules, anyone on the water when it is above five feet must be wearing a life jacket.
You can find more rules and safety tips, alongside a wealth of James River exploration and activity information, online at jamesriverpark.org.