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October 18, 2017

“River rat” loves his life along the Rappahannock

Photos/Cassandra Brown
Greg Beach has found lots of arrowheads and Civil War bullets on his property.
From the comfort of his home, Mr. Beach often spots bald eagle and other wildlife.
I like to get down there in my chair either at sunup or sundown — that 20 minutes between light and dark is almost magical out there. There’s so much going on. The daytime creatures are getting ready for bed, and the nighttime creatures are coming out. I like to sit down there and listen.
— Greg Beach
Greg Beach
• Age: 63

• Home: Near Remington.

• Family: Daughter, Jessica; mother, Damaris Barbano.

• Work: Custom carpenter and part-time maintenance worker on a farm near Brandy Station.

• Education: Lord Fairfax Community College, Middletown campus, 1973; Fauquier High School, 1972.

• Hobbies: Canoeing, hiking, mountain biking, playing bluegrass music and cross country skiing.
By .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)
Staff Journalist
He describes life along the Rappahannock River as peaceful and adventurous, with plenty of wildlife.

For more than 50 years, the largely unspoiled waterway along Fauquier’s western boundary has fascinated self-described “river rat” Greg Beach, a county native.

“I go canoeing all the time. Every other evening, I’m on that river,” Mr. Beach says. “My dog and my cat go canoeing with me, too.”

He does custom carpentry and has a part-time maintenance job at a farm near Brandy Station. But, the 63-year-old devotes most of his spare time to exploring the river.

He started canoeing the Rappahannock as a Boy Scout.

“I’ve been boating all my life,” Mr. Beach says. “When I was a kid, when I first saw the river, I thought it was the coolest thing ever.”

Others who enjoy the outdoors will spot Mr. Beach canoeing the Rappahannock or walking its banks any hour of the day.

“When you can’t find Greg, he’s on the river,” neighbor Ronnie Meadows says. “Money and material stuff is not that important to him. He enjoys life.”

Mr. Meadows has known him since the latter’s teen years. Before they became neighbors, he allowed Mr. Beach to access the river through his property.

Enthralled by the peaceful atmosphere, Mr. Beach bought a small house on the banks of the Rappahannock 16 years ago.

“To live on the river is a dream come true.”

His property lies west of Remington. Part of his house sits on a former Civil War trench. Mr. Beach has found lots of arrowheads and bullets there.

The expert canoeist has navigated Colorado River rapids through the Grand Canyon. Decades ago, he created the Burned Out Canoe Club for fellow paddlers.

On the Rappahannock, he typically floats and paddles about four miles downstream to moderate Class II and III rapids before the bridge at Kelly’s Ford.

When the river rises after heavy rain, those rapids can approach very challenging Class V status, according to Mr. Beach.

He sometimes clamps a small electric motor to his canoe and travels upstream to Remington.

“I’m on it all the time,” Mr. Beach says of the quiet waterway. “After dinner, I’ll put in my canoe and paddle up to the railroad rapids at Remington, about a mile . . . . I can go from here with a little electric motor all the way up about seven or eight miles into the Hazel River . . . . I don’t even fish, I just like hanging out on the river.”

Occasionally, he’ll take a canoe from Remington to Fredericksburg.

Like many others, Mr. Beach hopes the county will create public access to the river at Remington.

“I wish they would make more put-ins. It’s a shame that people can’t access the river.”

Meanwhile, he allows about 30 friends to put in or take out kayaks and canoes from his property. He built a rock staircase into the steep bank for easier access.

Most who float the river rely on the generosity of landowners, because public access remains rare along the Rappahannock, Mr. Beach explains.

“We both love the river and like canoers,” Mr. Meadows says. “We have no problem letting people get to it as long as they respect the property.”

Mr. Beach hopes more citizens will appreciate the Rappahannock.

“You wouldn’t believe how much trash I take out of the river,” he says. “Lots of beer cans. I hate to see it.”

Life along the Rappahannock remains exciting for Mr. Beach. He has dodged four copperhead strikes and has encountered bears several times. He spots bald eagles almost daily.

“I like to get down there in my chair either at sunup or sundown — that 20 minutes between light and dark is almost magical out there. There’s so much going on. The daytime creatures are getting ready for bed, and the nighttime creatures are coming out. I like to sit down there and listen.”

He has created his own outdoor oasis, building a tree fort near the river for reading.

Some days he’ll simply climb a tree and watch the river and wildlife for hours.

“There’s an osprey nest one fence row upstream. She had a baby last year, and I watched it learn how to dive and catch fish,” Mr. Beach says.

Over the years he’s seen the river’s ecosystem change.

“I remember years ago the river freezing over so thick that you could ice skate all up and down the river,” Mr. Beach says. “I was chasing big carp, I could see it through the ice. It hasn’t frozen over for years now. Probably 20 years.”

The Rappahannock’s width runs from 60 to 80 feet at his property.

“We’ve got fish in here now that have not been in here for about 150 years,” he believes. “They blew the damn up near Fredericksburg, and now we have shad, herring, snakeheads, rock bass and gar. I see them with my goggles when the water’s clear.”

Mr. Beach calls living along the river “seventh heaven . . . . It’s like my little piece of paradise down here.”

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