JAMESTOWN, Va. (WAVY) — One of the reasons English colonists chose to establish their settlement at Jamestown in 1607, was for its strategic location on the James River.

If Spanish ships tried to sail upriver and attack, the site was easily defensible.

But now, more than 400 years later, it’s the river itself that the first permanent English settlement in North America is now trying to defend itself from.

As springtime thunderstorms began to roll in Friday afternoon, hundreds of sandbags could already be seen scattered about the property.

While they are used to help weigh down tarps covering sites where archeological work is occurring, their primary purpose is to keep water out.

Denise Kellogg, director of development for the Jamestown Rediscovery Foundation — which in partnership with landowner Preservation Virginia maintains the property — said increasingly, the public’s access to the more than three-million artifacts as well as evidence of the original fort and buildings is limited by weather.

“When we have flooding events, it doesn’t have to be raining when we get tidal flooding and the flooding is so bad we have to close to the public,” Kellogg said. “Sandbag everything and get everyone off the island.”

She added predictive models, following the current trajectory of climate change, reveal that within the next half-century much of Jamestown will be underwater.

It’s one of the reasons this week the National Trust for Historic Preservation has named Jamestown to the 2022 list of America’s 11 Most Endangered Historic Places.

“Each major weather event increases the likelihood of irreversible damage to Jamestown’s priceless archaeological resources,” Dave Givens, Director of Archaeology, said in a statement. “The next five years will be critical.  If we miss this window the effort to save the site will become hugely more difficult.”  

A current “seawall” concrete revetment currently is all that protects the location of the original James Fort and Church that is home to the first gathering of the Virginia General Assembly in 1619.

However, that structure is now 125 years old.

This week, the Army Corps of Engineers gave the final go-ahead for the addition of 1,716 linear feet of large stone to reinforce the current defenses.

However, Kellogg said that is far from enough.

The foundation has been working with VHB civil engineers to come up with a long-term plan to “Save Jamestown.” She said the plan includes building additional berms to protect the historic site.

It will cost roughly $30 million, Kellogg said. While the foundation plans to ask for federal, state and local government help, fundraising is a top priority.

“This is our nation’s birthplace and we are not going to be here if we don’t do something together,” Kellogg said.

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