Virginia Crossroads: Special Camera Boat to Map James River - WSLS 10 NBC in Roanoke/Lynchburg Va

Virginia Crossroads: Special Camera Boat to Map James River

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It’s just a simple raft made from inflatable pontoons and an aluminum frame.  But this vessel is decked out with equipment that will change the way many people see the James River. 

Perched atop a tower in the middle is a ring of cameras -- cameras that will capture a panoramic view of the entire James River this summer.  

The James River Association is funding the approximately $25,000 dollar project.

“It will be a virtual on line tour of the James River,” said Rob Campbell with the James River Association.   “Really it's just another opportunity to get the James River out into the public eye.  We want everybody to know about this special river that we have as we belovedly call it, ‘America's founding river’.”

The one-of-a-kind boat is equipped with a solar panel that powers a battery, which in turn powers the motor, other electronics, and yes, the cameras.

This day is a test run, near Buchanan.  The real voyage from Iron Gate to Hampton Roads begins in June and will take about a month.

“We want this to be available to people who use the river, recreate on the river, um make their living off the river,” said Andy Thompson of Terrain 360, which is based in Richmond, and owns the raft.

Thompson and Ryan Abrahamsen will pilot the raft for a month.   With a click of a button, they will snap a panoramic shot every five to fifteen seconds depending upon their speed.  That’s a new set of pictures every 30 feet – for 344 miles.

“We'll probably end up taking 3-4 hundred thousand photographs when all is said and done on this project -- just the James River alone,” said Abrahamsen.

The pictures will be edited together along with readings from the boat’s GPS, to create a perfect tour of the river as if you were hovering 10 feet above its surface.  It’s not Google, but very much like street level mapping you may have already seen.

You might be wondering, “Well how do I use that map.  It's not like there's street numbers along the James?”  But when the project is finished there will be virtual mile markers the entire length of the river.

Mile markers is one of the big agreed upon aspects of this project.  We are going to make sure we have an agreed upon mm system.  People can say I wonder what's going on at mm 30 or mile marker 300,” said Thompson.   

Meaning more people will have more information about the James – Its rich history, its potential dangers and the plentiful recreational opportunities.

“There are some sections that nobody has ever seen.  Even the most experienced paddlers, haven't paddle the dam sections in between the dam sections in between Snowden and Lynchburg, the seven dams,” said Campbell.

“It's a river that invites you down to its banks in Richmond and here too.  It's such an easily accessible river, it's beautiful and there's so much you can do in it,” said Thompson.   “We thought what better way to sort of showcase the beauty the recreational resources and historical events all in one product.”

The pictures will be stitched together and the virtual tour of the River is expected to be on line by August.  In addition to the river itself, the map will be embedded with information on places to put in and take out, the relative difficulty of each set of rapids, outfitter information and historical sites along the way.

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