Science Matters:VCU’s Rice Center Adding 150 Acres on the James
A major land gift will add about 150 acres to Virginia Commonwealth University’s Rice Center on another part of the James River.
The land is part of the Meadowville Tract in eastern Henrico and is a gift from individuals who make up the Meadowville Trust. Dr. Thomas Huff is VCU’s vice-provost for life sciences.
Huff: The habitat that's present at Meadowville is entirely different; it's bottom land hardwood, it's not the kind of habitat that we have at the Rice Center in Charles City County, so it gives a much-expanded research and teaching opportunity for what we do at VCU.
The Rice Center is a unique biological field station. It sits on 343 acres in Charles City County.
Huff: Sort of between Berkeley and Shirley, on the James. Unlike most field stations, this one happens to be really focused on large rivers. I'm not sure that folks in central Virginia and in Richmond fully appreciate the extent to which the James is a big river, so it's one of the big rivers on the Atlantic slope, and it affords us a very rich opportunity to study large tidal rivers, and so we're going to have a major focus on not just wetlands around rivers, but the rivers themselves. The Meadowville gift allows us to expand our reach on the James with a different habitat that has a major frontage on the river itself.
Dr. Huff noted that while the Rice Center and the Meadowville Field Station are not far from each other, they are markedly different.
Huff: The one in Charles City County, because we're restoring Kemmage's Creek from the impoundment that was there, we have an unusual opportunity, not just to look at that kind of restoration effort in what was Lake Charles, but because right adjacent to it is a pristine tidal creek that allows us to do that comparison. The property at Meadowville has different kinds of trees on it, different forms of wildlife.
The property, he said, opens new opportunities for research and education, while preserving critical habitat on the river. The Rice Center, Huff noted, has at least 40 research projects going on at present.
Huff: One of the major pushes that we have is to restore Atlantic sturgeon to the James. The Atlantic sturgeon is known as the fish that saved Jamestown; it used to be very abundant in the tidal James and it virtually went away, but not completely, so that right now the only self-reproducing population of this beautiful (some people wouldn't say beautiful) prehistoric fish, huge, freshwater fish, is in the James River and we're committed to do the science that is necessary to make sure that we bring this fish back to a more abundant place than it was.
That are also a slew of wetland projects underway and VCU and the College of William and Mary have a partnership in place called The Center for Conservation Biology. Each school appoints faculty in the field of avian research, studying both eagles and migratory fowl.
Huff: We have a professor of pathology who is working on conservation medicine out there; she's discovered some naturally-occurring substances in amphibians that may help with immunity.
The recently acquired land is adjacent to the Meadowville Technology Park.
John Ogle, WCVE News