Monday, July 31, 2017

Episode 379 (7-31-17): Water at the Heart of Virginia's Western Highlands

CLICK HERE to listen to episode audio (3:57).

Transcript of audio, notes on the audio, images, and additional information follow below.

All Web addresses mentioned were functional as of 7-28-17.


From the Cumberland Gap to the Atlantic Ocean, this is Virginia Water Radio for the week of July 31, 2017.

SOUND - ~5 sec

This week, the sound of the James River at Richmond sets the stage for a headwaters mystery sound.  Have a listen for about 10 seconds, and see if you can guess what groundwater-based resource in the region where the James begins has been a settlement and tourist attraction for centuries.

SOUND - ~12 sec

If you guessed springs, you’re right!  You heard sounds from Magnesia Spring and Boiler Spring at the historic Homestead Resort in the Bath County town of Hot Springs.  As the names Hot Springs and Boiler Spring indicate, the area is particularly known for thermal springs, where groundwater emerges on the land surface at warm or hot temperatures.  Springs—both thermal ones and cool-water ones—are a focal point of the past and present of Virginia’s western highlands or Alleghany Highlands, names used for all or parts of the four county area of Alleghany, Bath, Craig, and Highland counties.  The Homestead, for example, began in 1766 around thermal springs that attracted visitors seeking to bathe in warm, mineral-rich water for its perceived healing effects. Bath County seat Warm Springs and other communities similarly developed around this groundwater-generated resource.

On the land’s surface, spring outfalls and streams in the four counties give rise to the Cowpasture River in Bath County and the Jackson River in Alleghany County.  Those two rivers meet to form the James in Botetourt County, just across Alleghany’s southern border.

Virginia has other highlands, other areas of springs, and of course other river headwaters areas, but none exceed the highlands of the James River headwaters area—from Natural Well in the south to Hot Springs in the middle to the community of Headwaters in the north—for being influenced and identified by their water, above and below the surface.

We close with some music by a Blacksburg-based group with a western highlands water name: Sweet Chalybeate, named for an Alleghany County town and the word for iron-enriched spring water.

MUSIC - ~ 27 sec - instrumental from “See What I Have Done” by Sweet Chalybeate


For more Virginia water sounds, music, and information, visit us online at, or call us at (540) 231-5463.  Virginia Water Radio is produced by the Virginia Water Resources Research Center, part of Virginia Tech’s College of Natural Resources and Environment.  Thanks to Ben Cosgrove for his version of “Shenandoah” to open and close the show.  In Blacksburg, I’m Alan Raflo, thanking you for listening, and wishing you health, wisdom, and good water.


Sounds from Magnesia Spring and Boiling Spring at the Homestead Hotel and Resort in Hot Springs were recorded by Virginia Water Radio on July 22, 2017.

“See What I Have Done” is copyright by Sweet Chalybeate, used with permission.  More information on Sweet Chalybeate is available online at

Thanks to Michael Martz for the James River recording, made in Richmond on February 17, 2014.

Click here if you’d like to hear the full version (2 min./22 sec.) of the “Shenandoah” arrangement/performance by Ben Cosgrove that opens and closes this episode.  More information about Mr. Cosgrove is available online at


The Homestead Hotel in Hot Springs, Virginia, July 22, 2017.
Magnesia Spring information marker at the Homestead in Hot Springs, Va., July 22, 2017.
Boiler Spring information marker at the Homestead in Hot Springs, Va., July 22, 2017.
Sign at the Jefferson Pools in Warm Springs, Va., July 22, 2017.
View to the east from Warm Springs Mountain overlook on U.S. Route 39 in Bath County, Va., July 22, 2017.
Confluence of the Cowpasture River (right background) and Jackson River (left background to form the James River in Botetourt County, Va., July 19, 2009.
The sign for the community of Sweet Chalybeate in Alleghany County, Va., October 28, 2018.


From Virginia Department of Environmental Quality, “Groundwater Characterization/Springs Database,” online at

“Springs are important natural resources. They serve as water sources for wildlife and maintain stream-flows during drought. Springs were sought after by native americans and early european settlers as sources of drinking water and mechanical power to operate grain-mills and furnace-bellows. Today they remain sources of many public, industrial, agricultural, and private water supplies.”

Spring locations in Virginia in 2016, according to the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality database. Map accessed at, 7/28/17.

From J.A. Poff, A Homeowner’s Guide to the Development, Maintenance, and Protection of Springs as a Drinking Water Source, Virginia Water Resources Research Center, Blacksburg, 1999, available online at

(from pages 11-12): “In 1928, a team of geologists…explored Virginia’s fields and forest in search of springs. They located over 500 springs in the Valley and Ridge Porvince. Most of the springs were concentrated in the Shenandoah Valley and the counties of August, Rockbridge, Rockingham, Shenandoah, Bath, and Highland. This is an area of karst topography, where water-soluble limestone is perforated by channels, caves, sinkholes, and underground caversn, and has an abundance of springs. Researchers fro mthe Department of Fisheries and Wildlife Sciences at Virginia Tech continued this survey some 50 years later. The research team located more than 1,600 additional springs. Most of the springs were on private lands west of the Blue Ridge.”

(from pages 15-16): “Both cold-water and thermal (warm or hot water) springs are found in Virginia. The Virginia Tech researchers located more than 1500 cold-water springs and 100 thermal springs. The water temperatue of cold-water springs averages between 52 and 58 degrees Fahrenheit (F), about the same as the mean air temperature. Thermal springs with waters heated deep within the earth flow at temperatures of 100 to 600 F year-round. Warm springs have a mean water temperature greater than average air temperature but less than 98 F; hot springs have mean water temperatures above 98 F.”


Used in Audio

Alleghany Highlands Blueway, online at

Alleghany Highlands Chamber of Commerce and Tourism, online at

Alleghany Highlands Economic Development Corporation, “Facts & Figures,” online at

Stan Cohen, The Homestead and Warm Springs Valley, Virginia: A Pictorial Heritage, Pictorial Histories Publishing Company, Charleston, W. Va., 1984.

Oren F. Morton, Annals of Bath County, Virginia, C.J. Carrier Company, Harrisonburg, Va., 1978.

J.A. Poff, A Homeowner’s Guide to the Development, Maintenance, and Protection of Springs as a Drinking Water Source, Virginia Water Resources Research Center, Blacksburg, 1999, online at

University of Virginia/Historical Collections at the Claude Moore Health Sciences Library, “Red Sweet Springs (Sweet Chalybeate Springs), Alleghany County, Virginia,” online at

Virginia Department of Environmental Quality, “Groundwater Characterization/Springs Database,” online at

Virginia Mountains, online at

Virginia Places, “Thermal Springs in Virginia,” online at

Virginia Tourism Corporation, “The Omni Homestead Resort,” online at

Virginia’s Western Highlands, online at

For More Information Western Virginia or Springs in Virginia

Michael Abraham, The Spine of the Virginias: Journeys Along the Border Between Virginia and West Virginia, Pocahontas Press, Blacksburg, Va., 2010.

Marsahll Fishwick, Springlore in Virginia, Bowling Green State University Popular Press, Bowling Green, Ky., 1978.

Virginia Places, “Caves and Springs in Virginia,” online at


All Water Radio episodes are listed by category at the Index link above ( See particularly the subject categories “Groundwater” and “Rivers, Streams, and Other Surface Water.”

Some other episodes related to springs are Episode 75, 8/15/11 (on springs generally) and Episode 306, 3/7/16 (on groundwater connections).

Some other episodes related to the James River are the following:
Episode 87 - 11/7/11 - on the falls of the James at Richmond and the city’s connections to the river;
Episode 201, 2/17/14 - Abraham Lincoln and the James River;
Episode 273, 7/6/15 - on the Great Road/Colonial Parkway on the Virginia Peninsula between the James and York rivers;
Episode 334, 9/19/16 - a Virginia rivers quiz;
Episode 373, 6/19/17 - James River Batteau Festival;
Episode 265, 5-11-15 - on geography, with sounds of Craig Creek, the James at Lynchburg, and James at Richmond.


This episode may help with the following Virginia 2010 Science SOLs:

Grades K-6 Earth Patterns, Cycles, and Change Theme
3.9 – Water cycle, including sources of water, energy driving water cycle, water essential for living things, and water limitations and conservation.

Grades K-6 Earth Resources Theme
4.9 - Va. natural resources, including watersheds, water resources, and organisms.

Grades K-6 Living Systems Theme
6.7 - natural processes and human interactions that affect watershed systems; Va. watersheds, water bodies, and wetlands; health and safety issues; and water monitoring.

Grades K-6 Matter Theme
6.5 – properties and characteristics of water.

Life Science Course
LS.6 - ecosystem interactions, including the water cycle, other cycles, and energy flow.

Earth Science Course
ES.6 – renewable vs. non-renewable resources (including energy resources).
ES.8 - influences by geologic processes and the activities of humans on freshwater resources, including identification of groundwater and major watershed systems in Virginia.

The episode may also help with the following Virginia 2015 Social Studies SOLs:

Virginia Studies Course
VS.1 – impact of geographic features on people, places, and events in Virginia history.
VS.2 – physical geography and native peoples of Virginia past and present.
VS.10 – knowledge of government, geography, and economics in present-day Virginia.

United States History to 1865 Course
USI.5 – factors that shaped colonial America and conditions in the colonies, including how people interacted with the environment to produce goods and service.

World Geography Course
WG.2 - how selected physical and ecological processes shape the Earth’s surface, including climate, weather, and how humans influence their environment and are influenced by it.
WG.3 - how regional landscapes reflect the physical environment and the cultural characteristics of their inhabitants.

Virginia’s SOLs are available from the Virginia Department of Education, online at