For almost three months now, our daily routines have been uprooted and our favorite places have been closed. There is one place – one constant – that seems to have thrived:

The Great Outdoors.

Nature has seemingly rejoiced during this time of crisis, as carbon emissions decrease, water quality improves, and wildlife returns to now quiet habitats. The birds, bees, and trees continued their cycle of life, aided by an almost perfect Spring in the RVA.

One area that has struggled, however, is the Huguenot Flatwater portion of James River Park. The reconstruction of the Huguenot Bridge altered the water flow around its base, and inundated a portion of that park. The trees and plants in that area are not adapted to this new, swampy environment. The Ash trees at Huguenot were infested with Emerald Ash Borers. This, combined with other pests and invasive plant species, has created a triple-threat that has created a “tree graveyard” at Huguenot Flatwater, leaving dead and limbless trunks as tombstones to mark a once thriving forest.

New Tree Plantings

Huguenot Flatwater is the farthest upriver spot in the James River Park. It offers some of the best views of the James River, and short, pleasant hikes to other spots like Rattlesnake Creek. It’s also extremely popular as a “put-in” spot for paddlers, kayakers, and anglers who enjoy the river and plentiful fish species there.

We’ve remained busy during our quarantine, and one of our ongoing projects has been the improvement of Huguenot Flatwater. We recently received funding to create a fully-accessible boat ramp so that more people can enjoy the James from Huguenot Flatwater. We’ve also been working tirelessly to clear some of the invasive plant species that were choking out native plants. We sometimes even employed goats!

We also got a great boost through a partnership with the Chesapeake Bay Trust and the Virginia Department of Forestry. They awarded us almost 1,000 trees, shrubs, and planting materials to bring Huguenot Flatwater’s foliage back to life. Additional work will be done at Belle Isle Park.

With the direction of Invasive Plant Coordinator Adrianna Clinton, and the hard work of volunteers Leah Purdy and Vicki Meininger (with many others), hundreds of new plants have taken root throughout Huguenot Flatwater. Armed with simple tools, a positive attitude, and a bit of muscle, they worked to create a system:

  • Identify a spot and place a tree stake

    Tree planting volunteers

    (L-R: Vicki Meininger, Leah Purdy, Adrianna “Andi” Clinton)

  • Clear the spot of invasive species like Wintercreeper
  • Dig a nice hole
  • Securely plant new foliage
  • Place a protective tube over the new foliage.

They repeated this action hundreds of times, and hand-planted native trees and woody shrubs such a Pin Oaks, Bald Cypress, Sycamore, Button Bush, Groundsel Bush, Persimmon, and more. Using human power, machine power, and goat power, they’ve worked tirelessly to create a new forest at Huguenot Flatwater, and return it to a healthy native ecosystem.

We hope that you’ll notice the changes the next time you visit Huguenot Flatwater. We hope that you’ll appreciate the difference some dedicated volunteers can make. We hope that some of you will be inspired to join our efforts, either by joining the Friends of the James River Park of dedicating some time for our next Invasive Plant Removal mission!

And we hope to see you all again soon.