Nature-minded volunteers worked to improve the Rivanna River in a variety of events around Charlottesville last weekend. More than 100 people came together at river cleanups, a buffer planting, water quality monitoring and educational events.

The effort to engage the community in river protection and preservation is part of the Rivanna Conservation Society’s “Go X-Stream Rivanna River Makeover,” a series of events organized around Earth Week.

“We want to inform and involve the community in the care and protection of the Rivanna River,” said the group’s executive director Robbi Savage. “If we get involved, if we care, then the water improves. It is that simple.”

Volunteers spent a sunny Saturday morning in Charlottesville’s Quarry Park planting a protective riparian buffer on the banks of a tributary to Moore’s Creek. This spot has been historically considered one of the most contaminated areas of the watershed, but has been the focus of several city cleanups.

The group planted trees and native grasses near the stream, which, as they grow, will support native wildlife and prevent soil erosion.

Steve Pence, a professional forester and co-founder of the Rivanna Conservation Society, explained why the process of planting trees is the best way to sustain a healthy river ecosystem.

“When soil particles mix with water, it becomes liquid sandpaper, and is very erosive and damaging,” Pence said. “Tree roots will grow here and create organic channels for water to flow without accumulating soil.”

Beyond being erosive, an excess of soil sediment in the streams prevents plants from photosynthesizing, creating oxygen, and supporting the river ecosystem. This concept was a focus at another “Go X-Stream” event for youth at the Lewis and Clark Exploratory Center in Darden Towe Park.

At the “Boots, Critters and Maps” event, volunteers waded into the Rivanna and explained the importance of water quality testing. Participants also had the opportunity to catch and inspect water critters that reveal the health of the ecosystem.

The Lewis and Clark Exploratory Center will continue to host water education programs over the summer and in the future. Executive Director Alexandria Searls described why monitoring is an important part of maintaining the health of the river.

“I tell kids they are a river doctor, and each tributary is a part of the family,” Searls said. “You listen until you find out what is wrong.”

For many volunteers, getting involved is an opportunity to improve the community. It has personal benefits, as well.

Jackie Heath has been working with the Rivanna Master Naturalists, a group that trains and organizes environmental volunteers, for seven years.

“I’ve done this for so long because it is fun and I get to be outdoors. Volunteering gets me up visiting the Shenandoah and other places,” Heath said.

Savage emphasized that the “Go X-Stream” events help put a spotlight on what her organization does year-round.

“This is a job we have to do all the time,” Savage said. “It is up to us and we can all play a part. We do this work throughout the year.”

For more information on the “Go X-Stream” events, which continue this week, visit