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Parks and Community Centers are Upstream Solutions

Parks and Community Centers are Upstream Solutions

We’ve posted here about Mayor Stoney’s plan to allot $155 million in American Rescue Plan funds, and $78 million of that directed towards Richmond’s community centers and parks. We’ve heard talk that some on City Council wish to reallocate where those funds go. We encourage you to contact your member of City Council to make your voice heard, and this link will offer you some sample language that we’ve been using. You can follow this link to find out who your Councilmember is.

Below is an op-ed submitted to our local media outlets by Josh Stutz, our Executive Director:

Parks and Community Centers are Upstream Solutions

Josh Stutz, Executive Director

Josh Stutz, Executive Director

The recently announced ARP funding proposal is a visionary investment in upstream solutions for the people of Richmond. $78 million in data-driven, targeted, park and community center-related projects is a down payment on the city that we want Richmond to be in 10 years. This is an important preventative maintenance step necessary to build stronger neighborhoods for this community.

I work in the nonprofit field and I believe that the most effective solutions to problems come from as far upstream as possible. This means enacting programs, policies, and measures that might not seem obvious at first glance. We can not always be in triage mode dealing with day-to-day tactical solutions, there needs to be some consideration for the larger strategic view. You can’t solve macro problems with micro solutions.

Recent research has shown that well-maintained parks and green spaces can lead to a decrease in gun violence, increases in safety, and improvements in health outcomes for local residents. Richmond, like all cities, has some heavy disparities in the social determinants of health, and this plan will bring resources to neighborhoods that need them. Leadership is planting the tree that you won’t ever get to sit in the shade of, and this plan literally does that for a big stretch of Richmond.

To use a metaphor, I like to think of the work that nonprofits and governments do as being like standing on the shoreline of a big river. In that river, there are people drowning. We need programs and people working together to help pull people from the river. This is the work of addressing the day-to-day problems that our communities face. We also need solutions for how to stop people from falling into the river in the first place. That is where an investment like this comes into play. Strategic investment of this size, and for this purpose, will help us ensure that in 10-15 years we will have stronger neighborhoods with less crime and healthier residents.

Projects specific to the James River Park System, where I do my work, include repairs to the Texas Beach Tower and new greenway approaches to the parks from the South. These are all items laid out in the JRPS Master Plan that was adopted by City Council in 2019. Once completed these specific projects will increase park accessibility, allowing more people to get to JRPS without a car, and will put even more neighborhoods within a 10-minute walk from their local park.

Improving parks and building new community centers in historically neglected areas will help strengthen communities in ways that pay dividends for years to come. This investment will also free up annual PRCF capital improvement funds for projects in other areas of the park system, allowing all boats to rise with the tide. This investment is not just about the $78 million right now, but what else we can do in the future for our parks by alleviating some budget pressure.

The COVID-19 pandemic has caused a major spike in park visitorship and outdoor recreation here in Richmond. JRPS recorded more than 2 million visitors last year as people from the region leaned on our outdoor spaces to stay healthy and connect with nature. Parks stayed open and safe when nothing else was, and a diverse group of people came out to use them. It is obvious that Richmonders care about their parks and we need to take advantage of this once in a lifetime chance to help guarantee that we will still live in a city we can be proud of decades from now. I trust the people and the process that put this plan together and I really hope we can unite as a community to see the plan approved without modification. Thank you.

-Josh Stutz, Executive Director, Friends of the James River Park.

Tell City Council You Support $78 Million for Parks & Community Centers

Tell City Council You Support $78 Million for Parks & Community Centers

Lavar Stoney makes an announcementOn September 13th, Richmond Mayor Levar Stoney presented his plan for allocating $155 million in American Rescue Plan funds. To formulate his plan, his administration looked at the results of a recent survey of Richmond residents and solicited feedback from Richmond City Council members.

In addition to funding for affordable housing and health equity, the plan directs $78 million towards parks and community centers.

To those who may ask: Richmond’s Public Schools received significant funding from another tranche of American Rescue Plan money. The School Board will allocate their funds as they see fit.

Scenic shot of the James River ParkThe next step is for Richmond’s City Council to adopt the Mayor’s funding plan. This likely won’t happen for at least the next month, but now is the time to let the Mayor and your Council member know that you support his plan for park funding. While not all $78 million will flow to the James River Park System, we will likely see significant funding. Large funding opportunities like this allow us to more aggressively move forward with our Master Plan and Park improvements. The Master Plan calls for improvements to trails and better access points for nearby communities – among other things.

And remember – a rising tide raises all boats. Funding for parks in Richmond provides a benefit to all.

Please submit your statement of support by e-mail to the City Council here.  Your comments will be distributed to Council members prior to any meeting and will be entered into the official record. If you’re not certain who your Council member is, you can find them here.

Thank you for all you do to support the James River Park System, and thank you in advance for being our advocates to City Council!

Do You Make a Difference?

Do You Make a Difference?

It seems as if we’re in a never-ending political season, and many groups and candidates are talking about their “grass roots support.” They tout those small-dollar donations that all add up to create million-dollar advertising buys.

We’re somewhat in the same boat, although without a seat to run for or a platform – aside from protecting and enhancing the James River Park System. And it seems that much of our success comes from the individual volunteers and donations we see daily.

FOJRP License PlateOne such example of that support comes from those of you who ordered a branded “Friends of the James River Park System” license plate.

The process for the plates is pretty simple:
When you register your vehicle, you can request a special plate for just $25 extra. Every time someone orders a plate, $15 of that fee comes back to the Park.

We know what you’re thinking: With all of the things going on in the Park and all of the areas that need attention, what difference will my $15 make?

Well, we just got our annual donation from the Virginia DMV for license plate fees, and it was around $48,000!

Forty-Eight Thousand Dollars.

If you’re curious about what sorts of things can be done with $48,000, consider this list:

  • Trail improvements
  • Equipment for Invasive Plant Removal
  • Staff recognition and support
  • Education Programs and Camps
  • More Port-a-Jons

We know, thinking of someplace to go to the bathroom may not seem like a big deal, but if it enhances someone’s enjoyment of the Park, it’s worth it.

There’s a quote out there about the power of a group. It alludes to the fact that one person doing something small may not make a difference, but a lot of people, each doing that small thing, can exact a colossal change. Perhaps the Dalai Lama says it best:

“If you think that you’re too small to make a difference, try sleeping with a mosquito.”

Click here to learn more about how you can support the James River Park System and the license plate program.

Universal Access at Huguenot Flatwater is Fully Funded!

Universal Access at Huguenot Flatwater is Fully Funded!

Improving access to the James River within the James River Park System is a priority of the James River Outdoor Coalition (JROC). The James River Park System’s Huguenot Flatwater area is now one step closer to having a universally accessible access ramp! On Tuesday, May 26, Richmond’s City Council adopted an ordinance that restores critically important funding to the Universal Access at Huguenot Flatwater project. The project is now fully funded and moving toward construction.


JROC has been spearheading this effort over the past few years to replace the existing canoe slide at Huguenot Flatwater with a universally accessible ramp. When complete, the universal access project will allow people of all abilities to easily launch a paddlecraft and enjoy the James River. Funding for the project is coming from the Richmond’s FY 2020 Capital Improvement Plan and a combination of grants and donations secured by JROC.

Friends of the James River Park would like to recognize JROC for building support for the Huguenot Flatwater project and leading the effort to raise funds to make it a reality. We would also like to recognize Mayor Stoney and City Council for supporting this important project that breaks down a barrier to enjoying the James.

All images via Dave Parrish Photography.

 

My 2019 in Review

My 2019 in Review

The James River is swollen from recent rains, and as I sit in my office looking over the swirling chocolate milk-like waters, a Kingfisher lands on a Sycamore branch and reflects, viewing the landscape for food and shelter. As I watch, I too reflect. Since I’ve arrived in Richmond, my window overlooking the James has shown me many great things and I’ve seen the wonderful opportunities the City has to offer. This past year or so has certainly given me much to reflect upon.

January 22nd is a special day for me – for a variety of reasons. Most importantly, it’s my wife’s birthday. January 22, 2019 was also my first day as the James River Park System’s (JRPS) Superintendent. It marked my first introduction to the Richmond community as I attended a city district meeting presenting the Park’s Master Plan.

Ralph White, Chris Frelke, Bryce Wilk, Nathan Burrell

Celebrating 10 years of the JRPS Conservation Easement and introduction into the Old-Growth Forest Network. L-R Ralph White, Chris Frelke, Bryce Wilk, Nathan Burrell.

When I first interviewed for the Superintendent position, I sat at the end of a large table with 10 individuals who formed a panel created specifically to fill this special position. What struck me immediately was the contribution of the community. Most of these folks were not paid employees of the City. These were citizens and volunteers and stakeholders that contribute to the vibrancy of Richmond and our JRPS. As I left the interview, I had the sense that were I fortunate enough to earn this position, I would enter with a built-in network of passionate and engaged people who would do anything to support the JRPS and see me succeed.

We’ve done much since they selected me to lead the JRPS. The days and weeks and months since that initial interview have been busy and productive. Among our accomplishments are:

  • First and foremost, the official approval and adoption of the JRPS Master Plan by Richmond’s City Council. This was the first Master Plan for the JRPS in over 50 years. It was an exhaustive process with 10 public meetings, over 2,300 surveys completed in both English and Spanish, a steering committee, a technical committee, over $250,000 raised through private donations, and thousands of hours of advocacy! The hard work to create this guiding document will help to determine the direction of the JRPS for the next decade and beyond.
  • 2019 proved to be the most successful year in public outreach and programming in JRPS history. Our staff and volunteers hosted almost 20 separate camps, with over 330 individual programs reaching over 7,000 participants. We worked with roughly a dozen Richmond Public Community Centers; hosted the Meteor Bike Tour, where participants rode 40 miles from Richmond to the mouth of the Chickahominy River to camp under the stars; introduced the JRPS to younger Richmonders through our James River Readers; splashed with Kids in Kayaks, enjoyed BWET programming, hosted NextUp out-of-school biking programs, and brought children to River Romp. We saw a young newcomer to the JRPS catch their first striped bass with their first cast during the annual shad run. Our programming and offerings expanded our outreach to park-goers from 2 to 102 years of age.
  • Volunteers – the backbone of the JRPS – contributed over 8,000 hours in the Park. These were individuals, students, corporate and business groups, and support groups such as the Invasive Plant Task Force, James River Outdoor Coalition, James River Advisory Council, Friends of Pump House, RVAMore, and of course the Friends of the James River Park. This is not a complete list, and I know that if we could capture the actual volunteer hours spent in the JRPS that ‘8,000 hour’ number would exceed 16,000 hours.
  • In addition to the Superintendents of JRPS and Trails and Greenways, we were able to hire a full-time Volunteer Coordinator, a new Trails Manager, and an Operations Crew Chief.
  • Among the amazing projects completed in 2019 were: a refurbished ramp at Northbank and Maymont; the new Northbank Trail Connector; a repaired accessible walkway at Pump House; a new raised kiosk at Pump House; new signage at Reedy Creek; dredging and a retaining wall at Ancarrow’s Landing; service road repair at Belle Isle and Pony Pasture after severe flooding events; new brackets on the grates of the T. Tyler Potterfield Bridge; a new gate at the Belle Isle South Entrance; the Huguenot Overlook handrail and vista renovation; and more acres of invasive plant removal than we care to count.
  • Our partnerships expanded with folks like the National Park Service, Virginia State Parks, the YMCA, American Civil War Museum, Venture Richmond, Richmond Region Tourism, Richmond Public Schools, Virginia Department of Forestry, Capital Trees, Groundwork RVA, Master Naturalists, and the James River Association. We also celebrated 10 years of the JRPS under the Conservation Easement with Capital Region Land Conservancy, and welcomed an introduction into the Old-Growth Forest Network.
  • In 2019, over 1.95 million visitors came to the James River Park System. This was a record number of people exploring and enjoying the Park.

This, too, is a partial list, and we thank our many volunteers and river patrons. I have to personally thank the dedicated staff of the James River Park System. They are an invaluable resource and make my job that much more enjoyable.

When I look out of my window at the Park, whether I’m seeing a bright new dawn or the last rays of the day’s sunshine, I’m comforted knowing that these people and these events have exceeded my wildest expectations. I’ve been embraced by all of you, and embrace you as my new family, and my new home. I know that I can experience this life with you, laugh with you, and cry with you. Most importantly, I trust you and know that I have your support, and for that I celebrate.

Best wishes for an even better 2020,

 

Bryce M. Wilk
James River Park System Superintendent

Uncovering a ParkStar

Uncovering a ParkStar

We recently took advantage of a wonderful Fall day to catch up with Catherine Farmer on Belle Isle. She’s in charge of the Habitat Restoration Project there.

And she’s our newest ParkStar.

She started in the James River Park as a tree steward. Her plan was to identify different trees around the Park, tag them, and lead “Tree Tours” where people could learn about the different types of trees along the James River. As she began her exploration, she realized how many of the different plants and trees she saw really weren’t supposed to be there. They were invasive species. We wrote about this last January.

She started working on removing invasive species as a private project, and now routinely leads teams of volunteers who work with her to restore Belle Isle to its original state. She says one of the really neat things about this is that they often uncover walls and the remnants of old structures that nobody has seen for generations. They’re all relics of the many uses of Belle Isle over the years.

She also offered some advice for the rest of us: We all USE the James River Park. But we should always endeavor to leave it better than we entered it – pick up some trash. Do some good.

It’s good to love the Park. It’s great to care for it.

 

 

My 2019 in Review

Encourage the city of RVA to Approve the James River Park Master Plan

The James River Park System Master Plan has been completed and the Friends of the James River Park’s next challenge is adoption of the plan by Richmond City Council so we can move forward with its implementation.  

Herons in the James River Park

Herons in the James River Park

This will be a two part process, starting with approval from Richmond’s Planning Commission.   The Planning Commission is responsible for the conduct of planning relating to the orderly growth and development of the City. The James River Park System Master Plan is now scheduled to be presented to the Planning Commission on November 4, 2019. The time has not yet been set. (Please note – this a change.). This will be in the 5th Floor Conference Room of City Hall.

The Friends of the James River Park will be there to speak in support of the Plan. Please join us to show your support.

After the Master Plan is approved by the Planning Commission, it will be presented to City Council for its approval.  We anticipate this will occur during City Council’s November 11th or December 9th meeting.  Once our Master Plan is presented to City Council, there will be an opportunity for public comment.  Any person speaking during the public comment will be allotted a total of three minutes to speak. Richmond City Council meetings begin at 6:00 p.m. and are held in Council Chamber, 2nd Floor, and City Hall.

Sunset over the James

Sunset over the James

We hope you will help make our voice heard with the City of Richmond.  If you live in the City, email your council member and tell him or her how you feel about the James River Master Plan and encourage a yes vote for adopting the Master Plan.  Join us at the Planning Commission meeting and the City Council meeting where decisions are being made about the Master Plan (we will let you know the City Council date as soon as it is set) and speak to the decision makers yourself.  This is YOUR James River Park System and this is YOUR Master Pan.

Download the full plan HERE!

 

Read the Draft of the Master Plan and provide feedback here!

Read the Draft of the Master Plan and provide feedback here!

The James River ParkAfter much deliberation, the James River Park Master Plan has been drafted and ready for your comments and concerns. The ten year Master Plan provides milestones and specific goals and costs associated with Richmond’s most prized natural possession: The James River Park.  Please join us in reviewing the draft, then take the survey to provide your valuable positive feedback and directions.

Find the Master Plan AND the Survey here:  https://jamesriverpark.org/draftmasterplan/

Many thanks to the hundreds of you who have actively participated to make this Master Plan what it is.

Thank You for Joining Us for the Master Plan Draft Review

Thank You for Joining Us for the Master Plan Draft Review

When we began planning for the next decade of the James River Park System, we partnered with the City of Richmond to develop a Master Plan. Our Draft Master Plan is the result of a thorough public comment period with guidance pulled directly from over 2,000 surveys and 10 public meetings held at every voting district in the City of Richmond which began in January. 

Your input helped to create the Draft of our Ten-Year Master Plan.

On the evening of Wednesday, July 17th, city residents and all in the region who love the James River Park system were invited to attend a meeting to review the Master Plan Draft and provide feedback. Staff from Parks, Recreation, and Community Facilities, members of the James River Park System Steering and Technical Committees, and VHB Engineering and Hargreaves provided an overview of the proposed Master Plan. 

And we once again needed your input.

Katherine Mitchell, President of Friends of the James River Park, said, “The James River Park system is the most visited attraction in the City of Richmond and arguably its most treasured asset. A master plan will help to maintain the quality of the experience for users along with the health of the river and the wildlife.”

Among the plans discussed for our 600-acre Park are improvements to existing infrastructure like Headquarters and the Pony Pasture Bathhouse, preserving wild and green spaces, increasing multi-modal transportation to and from the park to improve access, and beginning to connect other green spaces throughout the Richmond region to the James River Park.

The development of a Master Plan for the James River Park System is an initiative of the Friends of the James River Park in partnership with the City of Richmond. The plan will incorporate aspects of existing plans and build on what has been done before. The project was funded by Friends of the James River Park, the Beirne Carter Foundation, Dominion Energy Charitable Foundation, CoStar, NewMarket Foundation, Venture Richmond, The Community Foundation, the Virginia Health Foundation, and others who love the Park.

More information about the master plan process can be found at jamesriverpark.org/masterplan. Comments and questions about this master plan can be submitted to [email protected]

* James River Image by Dave Parrish Photography

It’s Starting to Look Like a Busy Summer!

It’s Starting to Look Like a Busy Summer!

Early Summer has been a busy time across the James River Park System for staff, volunteers, visitors, and even filmmakers!
(Cover photo by Dave Parrish Photography https://www.daveparrishphoto.com/)

CPR Training at JRPSCPR Training

Superintendent Bryce Wilk held a Red Cross First Aid/CPR course for JRPS staff and interns.

Wilk is a Search & Rescue Team Member and certified Lifeguard, so emergencies are something he’s well-trained for.

 

 


Washington's Armor Filming in RVA

Filming in RVA for “Washington’s Armor”

A new project being shot in Richmond – Washington’s Armor – spent some time filming on Belle Isle.

We’re not certain of the plot or cast, but we do know that George Washington spent a good bit of time in Richmond surveying what became our series of canals along the river.


Building a Dumpster Blind

Volunteers Build a Dumpster Blind

The JROC gathered a team of volunteers to build a dumpster blind at Pony Pasture.

This will help to keep litter out of sight, but hopefully not out of mind!

 


Wintercreeper Invasive SpeciesInvasive Species Task Force • Hard at Work

While they were hard at work, another team got busy around the bathhouse and around Pony Pasture.

The Invasive Species Task Force hosted a volunteer day for the Nature Conservancy and cleared a large amount of plants like Bush Honeysuckle and Winter Creeper.

 


Celebrating Juneteenth

The Juneteenth Celebration

Many Richmonders took advantage of the views and weather to enjoy an evening of music, dance, and more at Ancarrow’s Landing for a Juneteenth celebration. They capped the day with a night hike along the Slave Trail.

 


 

The Friends of the Pumphouse spent a day cleaning the historic structure and stabilizing the walkway to the boiler room. They also hosted a hardhat tour for John Pashal, a photographer who explores interesting historical structures throughout the Commonwealth. His work can be seen in his book “A Beautifully Broken Virginia.”

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