News & Events » Park Improvements
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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!
After 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.
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.
* James River Image by Dave Parrish Photography
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/)
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.”
We’re fortunate to have a great team of folks who work to keep the James River Park System beautiful. Some of them are direct employees of the Park, but many of them are volunteers. They help with cleanups, invasive plant removal, trail-building, and more. They are really our stars.
One such star is Colin Owens.
Several years ago, Colin (then a teenager) was working towards earning an Eagle Scout badge as a part of his journey with the Boy Scouts. One requirement was a work project with a non-profit. He contacted then-Superintendent Ralph White and Nathan Burrell (later a Superintendent) who supplied him with a list of Park needs.
- There’s some litter that needs removal.
- We need some new signage for a trail.
- We have too much ivy on this bank.
But Colin had bigger ideas.
One thing that Ralph and Nathan (and most of us!) really wanted was a suitable bridge to cross Reedy Creek. During low water times, folks could hike, run, or bike across a trickling stream with little problem. After heavy rains, however, the trail became impassable.
Ralph and Nathan arranged to deliver a load of telephone poles to the Reedy Creek site. Colin and his fellow scouts got to work, and over the course of 6 months, constructed a wonderful bridge that kept trail-users dry, even in wet weather!
Colin earned his Eagle Scout badge, and thousands enjoyed his bridge.
Flash forward to nine years later, and Colin learned that disaster had struck. During a hurricane, his bridge over Reedy Creek had been washed away.
Colin went to visit with Michael Burton, our Trails and Greenway Supervisor, and asked what could be done. The short answer was, “not much.” There were a million things to be done in the Park, and funding for a new Reedy Creek bridge was not on that list.
Colin, however, worked a deal with Michael. If the Park would put up the materials, Colin and his company (Post 2 Post Construction) would donate the man-hours to get it rebuilt. Watch the video below to see how Colin and his friends created a newer, more sustainable Reedy Creek Bridge.
They’ve since gone on to work on other public-use projects in the Park.
It seems Colin’s college classes in Natural Asset Valuation taught him what the James River Park System brings to Virginia, and his time as a Scout taught him how to become a Park Star.
The James River Park System has been a gift to the City of Richmond’s residents, and that gift has been shared with Virginians, Americans, and worldwide visitors.
In the 1960’s a group of citizens gave the gift of their time to block a proposed highway on the South banks of the James River, while another group gifted their time to buy enough land for a proposed park. It was later gifted to the City of Richmond Government, and that gift grew to become the nearly 600 acres of James River Park that we love today.
In early June of 2009, we received another gift when city officials formally recorded a conservation easement on 280 acres of James River Park. This would forever protect those acres from being developed and preserve them as a natural resource and unique wilderness area.
Just this last week, the Capital Region Land Conservancy (who partners with the Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation, the Enrichmond Foundation, and the James River Park System as stewards of the conservation easement) listed those 280 acres as part of the national Old-Growth Forest Network. The James River Park became the 96th such forest in the nation, and just the 7th in Virginia.
While this designation doesn’t mean the forest has never changed, it does mean it has grown for more than 100 years without major man-made disturbances.
We’re honored by this designation, and hopeful that more of the James River Park System will soon see that 100-year milestone.
When you’ve visited the James River Park, have you ever wandered down a tree-shaded, dirt-packed trail to find yourself emerging into sunlight at the edge of the water? Or perhaps you’ve pedaled your mountain bike through an unexpected adventure to emerge on Belle Isle?
It takes a great deal of work to make those trails happen.
In the early days of the Park, folks seeking access or adventure would follow public roadways to occasional breaks in the foliage. These breaks were from rain runoff or animal trails, and those tracks and trails became our hiking and biking paths. People often found themselves enjoying a trail, only to have to transition back onto a public roadway to get to the next section.
As more people discovered and began to enjoy the James River Park, a more sustainable solution was needed.
Last year, almost 1.5 million people enjoyed the over 40 miles of trails in the Park. And with that much use, it takes a great deal of upkeep to keep them usable.
That’s where Trails Technician Andrew Alli comes in.
Leading a team of volunteers, he’s helped to clear up dead trees, build retaining walls, boardwalks and bridges, update signage, and create new trails. He most recently oversaw the completion of the North Bank Trail – linking existing trails that used to require a connecting ride through a residential neighborhood.
He and his team make certain that even though hundreds use the trails every day, they will stand up to the weather, and nature, and keep the James River Park and its pathways enjoyable for years to come.
If you’ve lived in Richmond for any length of time, you may take the waterway that runs through our city for granted. Sure, you know that the James River runs through downtown, but after a while, it’s just there, isn’t it?
In 2017, some smart folks at VCU conducted a study to determine just what the James River means to Richmond. They found:
* For ever dollar spent by the James River Park System, visitors spent over $60.
* Local businesses said that they would lose over 32% of their revenue without the Park.
* For every mile closer your single-family home is to the Park, your property value goes up almost $9,000.
You can read the full study about the economic impact of the James River Park System here.
Knowing that, we were pleased to see that Mayor Stoney’s latest budget proposal is quite favorable to the growth and sustainability of our Park. It supports operations and maintenance, and funds initiatives like the Huguenot Flatwater universal access project. It includes $400,000 for Tredegar/Brown’s Island Accessible Walk Improvements, $205,400 for the Canal Walk Connector to Brown’s Island, and $210,000 for the Gillies Creek Greenway.
If you’re a member of ours, or even if you just love having the James River and its wonderful urban park right in our downtown, we encourage you to contact your City Council representative or the Mayor’s office and lend your support to this funding.
You can read about Mayor Stoney’s budget here.
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