Generations of Loudouners have canoed, swum and fished in Goose Creek. And countless commuters drive over the waterway daily on the Dulles Greenway or Rt. 7 without thinking much about its meandering path through Fauquier and western Loudoun.
Now a 2019 documentary about the beloved river is getting fresh attention after taking top honors at a regional film festival.
“Goose Creek Watershed,” produced by Lincoln Studios for the Goose Creek Association, took the grand prize at the 2021 RVA Environmental Film Festival last month.
For the filmmakers and their nonprofit client, the idea was to promote environmental awareness while also spotlighting the beauty and cultural and historic significance of the river.
“I’m very glad it can be a positive force for people to recognize how important it is to take care of [Goose Creek],” said the film’s producer Sarah Huntington. “There’s a nostalgia to it. So many people have grown up in Loudoun and newcomers too have used it for recreation.”
Huntington, who is now based in Fauquier County, lived for years near a tributary of Goose Creek in Loudoun and remembers canoe trips from her early days in the region in the 1970s.
The Goose Creek Association commissioned the film in 2018 in preparation for its 50th anniversary celebration last year. Huntington, her husband and artistic collaborator Drew Babb, who wrote the script for the film, and videographer and editor Peter Buck shot footage over a full year to capture all four seasons on the river, wrapping up production in the fall of 2019.
Lovingly known as “The Goose,” the 54-mile state scenic river flows from Linden in Fauquier County runs through some of the most beautiful scenery in both counties before emptying into the Potomac River at Lansdowne.
“I realized we needed a compendium of Goose Creek’s history. … We have so many new people who come to the area who really don’t know about the significance of Goose Creek and this area,” said GCA co-chair Lori Keenan. “It was really an education mission.”
The association took a bequest from former GCA chairwoman Janet Grayson Whitehouse, who died in 2014, and ran with it.
“It was an idea that had been percolating for a long time. The seed money really gave us a kick start,” Keenan said.
The team of filmmakers made a point of hitting every crossing and capturing settings that aren’t visible from the road. The crew used new footage and interviews, stock footage and included shots of the river from the 2004 feature film “Crazy Like a Fox,” directed by Loudoun-based filmmaker Richard Squires that had impressed Huntington with their beauty. The documentary is narrated by former ABC news correspondent and longtime Loudoun resident Bettina Gregory.
“We tried to cover those areas people knew and remembered,” Huntington said. “There’s sort of a romance to it. It’s pretty and it’s pastoral. … It’s very lyrical and it goes through lots of different landscapes–open fields and these cliffs and it opens up into the Potomac.”
Keenan and her GCA colleagues worked to find a range of voices to cover the river’s historic, recreational and agricultural significance. The film also tackles development threats including Loudoun’s residential building boom and the True North Data Center approved in 2018.
The documentary includes interviews with Loudoun-based historian Rich Gillespie, Fauquier-based Olympic equestrian medalist Nina Fout and GCA board member Marvin Watts, who organizes the association’s annual canoe flotilla clean-up. The film touches on agricultural best practices and efforts to create riparian buffers with interviews from farmer Mike Morency and conservationist Marcia Woolman. Purcellville Mayor Kwasi Fraser also makes an appearance, discussing nitrogen and phosphorus mitigation efforts at the town’s wastewater treatment facility.
“It really knits us together as a community. … A lot of us live along tributaries, and it’s exciting to see how they end up in the Goose, which ends up in the Potomac. And the history which is so deep is certainly a revelation,” Keenan said. “[The film] has been very good for motivating people in the lower Goose Creek area near Leesburg. We wanted to reach out to that audience of people because that’s the most endangered and imperiled part of Goose Creek because of development.”
The Goose Creek debuted the documentary at an in-person screening in Middleburg in February, 2020, just ahead of COVID shutdowns. But the RVA award and recent discussions about development at the Leesburg end of Goose Creek are reviving interest in the film from both policymakers and residents. The film is making the rounds on social media as debate continues over a rezoning request from True North and the Loudoun Board of Supervisors revisits a controversial vote to approve a new residential development near the river.
“To me the Goose Creek watershed is the prettiest part of both Loudoun and Fauquier counties. That’s what drew me to move here,” said GCA co-chair Paul Lawrence. “It was fortuitous for us that we had it ready to go when this controversy arose, and I think it has had an impact.”
Keenan and Lawrence are embracing renewed attention to the 50-year-old nonprofit. The association has moved its spring canoe flotilla to the fall because of COVID and is also planning a fall festival
For Huntington and her colleagues, the film has brought a new focus on environmental filmmaking. Lincoln Studios is working on a new project for the Friends of the Blue Ridge Mountains
“It’s blossoming into some other environmental projects, which is worthwhile because it’s an important subject,” Huntington said. “Clean water is going to be one of the biggest issues in the world, and this film plays a small part in raising awareness.”
To view the “Goose Creek Watershed” documentary and to learn more about the Goose Creek Association, go to goosecreek.org. For more information about the Lincoln Studios, go to thelincolnstudios.com.