As the state processes a request that the Pound River be designated as a Virginia Scenic River, advocates in Pound are putting out the call for cleanup help this weekend.
Cleanliness is one of several components used in the assessment, and an outfitter who's been mapping all the rivers in the Heart of Appalachia region says the Pound River looks pretty clean once you're past the stretch through town.
In fact, Ricky Barton of OAC Outdoor Adventure Centers in Tazewell County said Monday the river is utterly stunning.
"Whenever you leave the town and get down to where it turns to wilderness, you are just completely detaching yourself from any sign of man," Barton said. "There's probably nine miles of just wilderness."
Along the way you float through a huge span of old growth forests, he said, and witness abundant nature untamed, with bear, turkey, deer, kingfishers and blue herons, not to mention trout, bass and other fish galore. Another feature is an abandoned railroad bed that follows the river and has tremendous potential as a trail.
Just pass the town, he continued, "in a second, you are drifting into a whole other place, a whole other planet." He compared it to "paddling into the middle of nowhere and you're just outside the town."
So untouched and untraveled is it, he added, that deer simply stood still and watched them pass, as if to wonder what they were seeing.
With OAC as guides, the state paddled the stretch of Pound River in Dickenson County last month and OAC turned attention to the Wise County stretch July 7. Barton said the Pound float was the last trip to finish up their part of the work on the scenic river designation.
They put in at Pound Dam and floated all the way to the Poodle Joe Bridge at the Dickenson County line, about a six-hour trip.
Having been on all the rivers, Barton said he never imagined what they would encounter on Pound River. "I had no idea the river would be as pretty as it is," he said.
It even stunned the visitors from Hawaii who went on this last leg with him and turned their visit into a podcast they do about their travels.
"They came across the globe to float the Pound," he said. "How cool is that?"
One visitor involved in the scoring maxed out every box to be checked, Barton said, and even observed he'd like to buy a building he saw at the river's edge to open his own outfitting business. This, he noted, from someone who has traveled the world and seen the beautiful scenery all along the way.
Another aspect of the river that Barton pointed out is its easiness as compared to something like the whitewater of the Russell Fork.
Adventure tourism appeals to all ages, he noted, and the Pound River presents opportunities to those who want to just float and relax.
"You can teach your kids to paddle here," he said, noting that the Pound River would attract a wide range of people because it's not a specialty river.
One of the reasons he and partner Scarlett Collie got into the adventure tourism business, Barton said, was to "take existing infrastructure and shine a light on it." He said they not only want to show it off but to also "keep it rural and keep it as wild as it is."
Rivers, mountains and trails are huge assets for the region, he noted, "and the neat thing is, they are not something you are reinventing" and are not intrusive like an amusement park.
These days, he said, they are easy to attach to as a community and help citizens become good stewards of the nature around them.
There was a time, Barton added, when the older generation spent most of its time working to make a living and not necessarily appreciating their natural surroundings. But the newest generation is coming up now and "this adventure tourism drive is real and it's everywhere."
Barton praised the efforts of Tony Baker, the Pound police chief who has organized river events and knows every mile of it.
Debbi Hale, who has advanced work on hiking trails around Pound, also is working on the state scenic designation.
Hale put out the word for a river clean up July 19-20, including some trees and debris that need to be removed. They will meet at Pound Town Hall at 10 a.m. both days to get organized. People should bring a kayak or canoe and safety equipment. Organizers will have loppers, saws, gloves and trash bags for debris. Call or text Hale at 276/870-3479 for more information.
Barton suggested emphasis on the stretch of river through town limits, noting they could not include that section of the river in the scenic designation because it was so bad.
Margaret Sturgill, an active member of the Historical Society of The Pound, noted that the Pound River is a historic river, as well, one of only two in Virginia that flows north. The New River is the other one.
Sturgill, who lives at the river's edge, said it has long been neglected. "We need an army of volunteers who like to work outdoors and who don't care to get wet," she said. "Maybe you are not physically able but you have sons and daughters, grandchildren, friends or neighbors who could pitch in with this project."
Sturgill also pointed out that there are lots of individuals who have expressed interest in doing something to help the Pound but they don't know exactly what to do. "Here's a great opportunity to help," she said.