Monday, June 25, 2018

Episode 426 (6-25-18): Introducing the Big Otter River

CLICK HERE to listen to episode audio (3:37).

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

All Web addresses mentioned were functional as of 6-22-18.


From the Cumberland Gap to the Atlantic Ocean, this is Virginia Water Radio for the week of June 25, 2018.

MUSIC – ~10 sec

This week, that excerpt of “To the Wild,” by the Harrisonburg, Va.-based group, The Steel Wheels, from their 2017 album “Wild as We Came Here,” opens the second in a series of episodes on three relatively small Virginia rivers.  The series highlights waterways which are less widely known than big rivers like the James, Potomac, and Shenandoah, but which still contribute in big ways to Virginia’s common wealth of water, aquatic life, scenic beauty, and human activity.

SOUND – ~8 sec

That’s the sound of the Big Otter River, below a highway bridge near the Campbell County community of Evington on June 15, 2017.   The Big Otter starts from headwaters in the Peaks of Otter, a series of summits along the Blue Ridge Parkway in Bedford County.  The river flows through Bedford and Campbell counties and then joins the Staunton River—the name given to one section of the Roanoke River—just downstream of the town of Altavista.

The Big Otter isn’t particularly big; its watershed area, for example, is only about 390 square miles, compared to over 10,000 square miles in the James River watershed, Virginia’s largest.  The Big Otter’s regional significance, however, is sizable: the otter name applies to several regional landmarks, such as the Peaks of Otter; the Big Otter is a main source of public water for Campbell County and a supplemental source for the town of Bedford; and the river’s headwater area is home to the Peaks of Otter Salamander, a species known only from that part of Virginia.

Thanks to The Steel Wheels for permission to use this week’s music, and in keeping with the wild nature of rivers and the wildlife name of the Big Otter River, we close with about 25 more seconds of “To the Wild.”



Virginia Water Radio is produced by the Virginia Water Resources Research Center, part of Virginia Tech’s College of Natural Resources and Environment.   For more Virginia water sounds, music, or information, visit us online at, or call the Water Center at (540) 231-5624.  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.


“To the Wild,” by The Steel Wheels, is from the 2017 album “Wild As We Came Here,” used with permission.  More information about The Steel Wheels is available online at

The sound of the Big Otter River was recorded by Virginia Water Radio on June 15, 2017, at the Route 682 bridge near Evington, Va. (Campbell County).

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


Big Otter River at bridge on Route 682 near Evington in Campbell County, Va., June 15, 2017.

Big Otter River at U.S. Route 460 in Bedford County, Virginia, June 15, 2013.

Watersheds and land uses in the Big Otter watershed, as of 2006.  Figure 2 (page 6) from “Big Otter River Watershed TMDL Implementation Plan Summary,” Big Otter IP Steering Committee et al., July 6, 2006, online (as PDF) at

On the Big Otter Watershed “The [Big Otter River] Basin (388 sq. miles) lies in portions of Virginia's Bedford and Campbell counties and encompasses the City of Bedford and suburbs of Lynchburg.   The Big Otter River discharges into the Roanoke River, which flows south into North Carolina and eventually discharges to the Albemarle Sound. Sheep Creek, Elk Creek, Machine Creek, and Little Otter River are all tributaries to the Lower Big Otter River.  The basin is dominated by forest (59%) and pasture (28%) land uses. The City of Bedford is located within the Little Otter River watershed.”
Source: Otter Implementation Plan Steering Committee et al., “Big Otter River Watershed TMDL Implementation Plan Summary” (page 6), July 6, 2006, online (as PDF) at

On River Otters
“The range of the river otter is throughout Virginia. This species is semi-aquatic or almost entirely aquatic and they are most abundant in food-rich coastal areas and the lower parts of streams and rivers. They use drift piles and logjams, and are found among tree roots. They occasionally use duck blinds and abandoned boat houses.”
Source: Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries, “Northern River Otter,” online at

On Other Wildlife
“[The Peaks of Otter loop trail] offers venues that are all within sight of the Peaks of Otter, named for the three peaks at the headwaters of the Big Otter River.  This is a loop that is sure to satisfy every wildlife-watching aspiration in the mountain region of Virginia, including views of the James River, stops along the Blue Ridge Parkway, historical sites, and large areas of neotropical breeding grounds.  Of particular interest to nature enthusiasts may be Warbler Road, known as a great migrant ‘trap’as well as breeding habitat for songbirds, or the Peaks of Otter, which is home to the endemic Peaks of Otter salamander.”
Source: Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries, “Virginia Birding and Wildlife Trail/Peaks of Otter,” online at

Streams and rivers in Bedford and Campbell counties with animal names, besides the Big Otter River and Little Otter River, include Bear Creek, Beaver and Little Beaver creeks, Buffalo Creek, Goose Creek, Opossum and Little Opossum creeks, and Rattlesnake Branch.
Source: R.H. Early, Campbell Chronicles and Family Sketches: Embracing the History of Campbell County, Virginia, 1782-1926, published in 1927; specifically Chapter V: Water Courses”; online (via the U.S. Geological Survey) at


Used for Audio

Bedford Regional Water Authority, “Annual Report and Consumer Confidence Report 2017,” online (as PDF) at

Big Otter IP Steering Committee et al., “Big Otter River Watershed TMDL Implementation Plan Summary,” July 6, 2006, online (as PDF) at

Campbell County, Va., Utilities and Service Authority, “2017 Water Quality Report,” online (as a PDF) at

Lynchburg News & Advance, “Department of Environmental Quality report shows E. coli prevalent in Central Va. Waterways,” by Sarah Watson, 6/22/08.

No Depression—The Journal of Roots Music, “The Steel Wheels—Wild as We Came Here” album review by J. McSpadden, 5/11/17, online at

U.S. EPA, “Waterbody Quality Assessment Report/2010 Waterbody Report for Big Otter River,” online at; and “305(b) Assessed Waterbody History Report for VAW-L27R_BOR02A00 [Big Otter River],” online at

Virginia Atlas and Gazetteer, DeLorme, Yarmouth, Me., 2000.

Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation, “Virginia’s Major Watersheds,” online at

Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries (VDGIF), “Virginia Birding and Wildlife Trail/Peaks of Otter,” online at

VDGIF, “Peaks of Otter Salamander,” online at

For More Information about the Big Otter River and its Watershed

Kurt J. McCoy et al., “Hydrogeology and simulation of groundwater flow in fractured-rock aquifers of the Piedmont and Blue Ridge Physiographic Provinces, Bedford County, Virginia,” U.S Geological Survey Scientific Investigations Report 2015-5113 (September 2015), online at  This report discusses groundwater in Bedford County, including the area within the Big Otter River watershed.

Peaks of Otter Soil and Water Conservation District, online at

U.S. Geological Survey/National Water Information System, gaging station information for Big Otter River gage near Evington, Va., online at,00060,62620,00062.

Virginia Tourism Corporation/Virginia Is For Lovers Web site, “Big Otter Mill,” online at


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

The other two episodes in the summer 2018 series on relatively small Virginia rivers are the following:
Episode 428, 7/9/18 - on the Jackson River.
Episode 425, 6/18/18 - on the South Fork Holston River.

Following are links to other episodes on Virginia waters in the Roanoke River watershed:
Episode 360, 3/20/17 – on the Smith River and Philpott Reservoir.
Episode 374, 6/26/17 – on the Staunton River.


The episode may help with Virginia 2013 Music SOLs at various grade levels that call for “examining the relationship of music to the other fine arts and other fields of knowledge.”

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

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

Grades K-6 Living Systems Theme
2.5 – living things as part of a system, including habitats.
6.7 – natural processes and human interactions that affect watershed systems; Va. watersheds, water bodies, and wetlands; health and safety issues; and water monitoring.

Life Science Course
LS.9 - adaptations for particular ecosystems’ biotic and abiotic factors, including characteristics of land, marine, and freshwater environments.

Earth Science Course
ES.8 – influences by geologic processes and the activities of humans on freshwater resources, including identification of groundwater and major watershed systems in Virginia.

Biology Course
BIO.1 – current applications to reinforce science concepts.
BIO.8 - dynamic equilibria and interactions within populations, communities, and ecosystems; including nutrient cycling, succession, effects of natural events and human activities, and analysis of the flora, fauna, and microorganisms of Virginia ecosystems.

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

Virginia Studies Course
VS.10 – knowledge of government, geography, and economics in present-day Virginia.

World Geography Course
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

Following are links to Water Radio episodes (various topics) designed especially for certain K-12 grade levels:
Episode 250 (1-26-15) – on boiling, for kindergarten through 3rd grade;
Episode 255 (3-2-15) – on density, for 5th and 6th grade;
Episode 282 (9-21-15) – on living vs. non-living, for kindergarten;
Episode 309 (3-28-16) – on temperature regulation in animals, for kindergarten through 12th grade;
Episode 332 (9-12-16) – on dissolved gases, especially dissolved oxygen in aquatic habitats, for 5th grade.
Episode 403 (1-15-18) – on freezing and ice, for kindergarten through 3rd grade;
Episode 404 (1-22-18) – on ice on ponds and lakes, for 4th through 8th grade; Episode 406 (2-5-18) – on ice on rivers, for middle school;
Episode 407 (2-12-19) – on snow chemistry and physics, for high school.