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James River Water Levels

Westham Gauge
Gauge Height: 3.32'
Flow: 785 cfps

Trail Conditions: Richmond

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High Tide: 9:42pm
Low Tide: 3:48pm

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Blue Sky Fund Students Explore Virginia Rivers, Meaning of Leadership

Brett Stonecipher

June 29, 2015 11:21am
Students prepare for their six-day paddling journey on the Rappahannock. Credit: Brett Stonecipher

Students prepare for their six-day paddling journey on the Rappahannock. Credit: Brett Stonecipher

Early one morning last week, 10 local high school students arrived at an office in Church Hill and launched into a flurry of activity: They crammed old pickle buckets full of food and gear; they loaded dry-bags with clothing and sleeping bags and double-checked the buckles; they cut para-cord into sections and turned into leashes for sunglasses; they ate doughnuts. Excitement filled the room as the youths circled up one final time. With a spirited “Let’s do it!” from one, they began carrying the fruits of their labor to the brightly painted mini-bus at the curb.

These students are alumni of Blue Sky Fund’s Outdoor Leadership Institute (OLI), a leadership development program which cultivates character and teamwork through a five-day backpacking trip to Mount Rogers in the summer and monthly community service throughout the following year. Blue Sky Fund began running alumni trips last summer at the request of some OLI graduates who desired greater physical challenges and more training in hard skills. Some of the current alumni trip participants graduated from the program earlier this June; some are now returning for their second year as alumni. All of them are now nearing completion of a six-day, 58-mile canoeing trip on the Rapidan and Rappahannock rivers.

​They will navigate both flat-water and rapids, camp along the riverbank, and explore trails in some wonderful wildlife-filled areas along the way.​

Processed with VSCOcam with f2 presetThese alumni have been preparing for this trip for quite some time. They decided on their route and made most of the planning decisions on their own. They spent the days leading up to the trip planning their meals, purchasing and re-packing their food, checking and distributing their gear, hunting down rope-swings, and practicing their paddling skills on the James. They’ve also been working on their communication skills, and will be following an intensive curriculum oriented towards leadership and character building while they paddle. This summer, they will delve into four traits of good leadership: humility, empathy, resilience, and diligence. 

Character development like this is at the heart of Blue Sky Fund’s mission: to provide transformational experiences for urban youth through outdoor education. The organization is based in and focused on the East End, but runs educational field trips for the 3rd and 5th grades all around the city. The organization also runs after-school Adventure clubs during the year to promote the same skill development and character building as the OLI program.

A pre-trip pic of the students at Blue Sky Fund HQ. Credit: Brett Stonecipher

A pre-trip pic of the students at Blue Sky Fund HQ. Credit: Brett Stonecipher

We will be hearing from the students themselves upon their return, and will have many pictures and stories to share. Stay tuned for more!

Blue Sky Fund will be running first-year OLI crews later in the summer. If you are interested in hearing more about OLI, head over to blueskyfund.org, or e-mail brett@blueskyfund.org for more information. The first year boys crew is full for the summer, but they are still recruiting girls for the program. 


About Brett Stonecipher

Brett became an avid hiker, climber, kayaker, and swimming-hole seeker while rambling about the Chattahoochee river in his hometown of Roswell, Georgia. He continued to delight in exploration and fellowship while earning his English degree from Furman University -- where he grew to know and enjoy the foothills of both Carolinas. While at Furman, Brett developed passions for mentorship and discipleship. These led him to Richmond in order to be a part of Northside Church. He currently lives in the Northside with his wife Haley.


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