By Kari Smith
For an adventurous group of Lynchburg natives and visitors, Father’s Day doesn’t get more unique than participating in the James River Batteau Festival. The event, which was first hosted in 1986 by the Virginia Canals and Navigations Society, holds its 36th annual event this year from June 19 – 26. The 8-day journey consists of crews following the James River from Lynchburg’s Percival Island to Maidens Landing in Maidens, VA (northwest of Richmond) navigating historic recreations of cargo vessels called batteau boats.
The original batteau (or batteaux) boats, invented by Anthony and Benjamin Rucker of Amherst County in 1775, were utilized in the 18th and early 19th century to transport tobacco and other cargo down the James River and its tributaries to Richmond. With long-haul trucks, trains, and other modes of cargo transportation now available, working batteau are no longer used, but historians and modern-day batteau crews work hard to keep the tradition alive.
Even though a worldwide pandemic may have curbed planning for some of the traditions of the festival this year, the show goes on with some changes. However, these limitations have not stopped participants from gearing up with block parties, campsite cleanups, and fundraisers in anticipation of the event. This week, they will pack tents, sleeping bags, and groceries, and make last-minute preparations and repairs to their boats, which will weigh several thousand pounds once loaded with crew and equipment. In fact, many batteau owners have been flipping their flat-bottomed batteau boats, or purposely sinking them in the river in preparation for the float, in order to cause the wood to swell, which seals up most leaks in the boat.
This year, over two dozen boats are anticipated, with many festivalgoers being repeat participants who have been part of the festival for many years. There are also participants in kayaks and canoes amongst the batteau crews. Crews pack food and camping equipment, and there are food trucks and vendors conveniently posted for dinner at each campsite.
For father/child crews in the festival, this Father’s Day experience will likely be more meaningful and memorable than another necktie, tool, or gift card! If you and dad (or father figure) are interested in building a batteau boat and participating in next year’s festival, check out James River Batteau Festival’s Facebook page and website, or send an email to email@example.com for more information. It would certainly be the experience of a lifetime! Check out festival boat and camping fees here, and note that Virginia Canals and Navigations Society Members receive discounted fees when four or more members are in a boat.
If a rustic week on the water doesn’t float your boat (now, that’s a “Dad joke” if I ever heard one…), maybe just a day on the water would do. Check out nearby James River Adventures (150 Rocky Hill Road, Madison Heights VA 24572) for hourly rentals of kayaks, canoes, or standup paddleboards launching from Riveredge Park. Keep an eye on their website for updates due to ever-changing pandemic conditions. James River Adventures is not currently offering guided half and full-day paddling, tubing, or batteau trips. Check their website or Facebook page often to see when these additional services will become available again.
Looking for a low-key outdoor activity with a history-loving dad? Take a walk on the grounds of the historic Point of Honor (109 Norwood Street), the former 1800’s Federal-style home of Dr. George Cabell and his family that is now part of the City of Lynchburg and the Lynchburg Museum System. The front lawn of Point of Honor overlooks downtown Lynchburg and makes for the perfect place to grab a picnic with Dad. Although tours of the buildings are temporarily suspended due to the pandemic, the gorgeous grounds – with views of the city and the James River – are open daily from dawn to dusk. Currently, the anticipated reopening is tentatively scheduled for August but check back often for changes to these restrictions on their website, as well as on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.
If sitting down over a couple of pints is your idea of a good time with Dad, visit Three Roads Brewing Company (1300 Court Street). The relaxed taproom features local art, games, and snacks. The brewery, whose first location was founded in nearby Farmville, Virginia in 2016, opened its Lynchburg location with a desire to bring the community together – as evidenced by their hashtag #WeBrewCommunity. Bringing along the kiddos? They also feature made-to-order craft sodas. Open Friday 3-11pm, Saturday 1 – 11pm, and Sunday 1-8pm. Activities include live music, bingo, weekly trivia nights, fundraisers, and food trucks, so follow their website, Facebook page, or call (434) 386-8153 for information and details.
Whether you spend Father’s Day with your kids, your dad, a father figure, loved ones, or a quiet day by yourself, make it a memorable one!
Kari Smith is a Virginia native whose love of writing began as a child, writing poems and songs. In 2006, her dream became reality when she moved to Nashville, Tennessee to sing and record her own original compositions. She continued on to pursue writing magazine articles and blogs to chronicle and share her personal adventures and interests. Besides teaching music and performing in the Richmond, VA area, she also enjoys riding horses, raising goats and chickens, and gardening.
Find out more about Kari HERE