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A Happy Fourth!

A Happy Fourth!

Good morning Friends of the James River Park!

We have reached the end of June, meaning we are about to close out one fiscal year and start another. It also means that I am just a week or two short of one year on the job! I am writing this post today to talk about what we have done over the last year, what we will do in the future, and to wish you all a great 4th of July weekend in the Park.

Since starting as Executive Director for the Friends, I have been working hard to ensure that we have the infrastructure that we need to get big things done for the Park. This work has involved reorganizing our board committee structure, recruiting a diverse class of new board members, growing our fundraising relationships, and working to clarify and define our relationship with the City of Richmond/JRPS Staff. We have also raised a significant amount of money to support the future projects we are planning right now.

Like the FY that is just ending, this next year will be a big growth year for FOJRP. I feel like we have the pieces in place to get some big things done and I am looking forward to improving the Park with you’re help. In FY 23, which starts on July 1st, we will be raising and spending more than $430,000 on work to protect, expand, and enhance the James River Park System. We are increasing spending in nearly every category and providing a significant amount of direct operational support for JRPS Staff.

Josh & FamilyAs part of our work to strengthen the Park, this year we will be adding a part-time staff member dedicated to supporting volunteer management in the Park, spending at least $100,000 on capital improvement projects, and committing additional resources to environmental conservation projects. We are also launching a new website for the park in a few weeks and looking at new ways to learn more about how people are using the Park. I am excited to be able to do this work on behalf of our supporters and everyone that enjoys the Park.

I ask you to think about the JRPS Staff and the nonprofits that support their work while you are out enjoying the Park this holiday weekend. It takes all of us working together to make the Park the great place that it is, and it would not be possible without the additional support provided by organizations like Friends of the James River Park. We take an active role in helping manage the park, and we need your help to keep making a difference. As a nonprofit, we rely on your financial support to make that happen.

I am starting off my holiday weekend by painting over graffiti on Belle Isle. I want to remind you to check the water levels before you go out this weekend, wear a life jacket, and make sure you know what to expect out on the river. We want everyone that visits the Park to make it in and out safely this holiday weekend.

I was excited to start my job with Friends of the James River Park in July of last year. I wake up every day still proud to serve you all and make an impact on a park that is enjoyed by so many. This is the 50th year of the Park’s existence and I am grateful for the opportunity to play even a small role in building the legacy of the James River Park System. Thank you all for your support!

Look for our annual report in a month or two to learn how we spent your donated dollars this year!

See you in the Park!

Josh Stutz
Executive Director
Friends of the James River Park System

 

Why Support Us?

Why Support Us?

I have been in my job for almost a full year now and I am excited to share more with you about who we are and what we have been working on. First, however, I want to address some frequent questions I hear:

“What do we do with your donated money? Why should you support the work that we are doing?”

As a nonprofit director, these are probably the most important questions for me to be able to answer, and I could not be prouder to write this blog addressing those questions specifically.

Park supportersAs one of the biggest nonprofit support groups for the James River Park System, we focus on work that protects, expands, and enhances the Park. We do that, in part, by working with the City of Richmond’s JRPS staff to ensure they have the resources necessary to do their jobs effectively. This is where we get to make a direct impact on Park services, education programs, and Park improvement projects.

If you are a City of Richmond resident, only about $3 from your taxes each year goes into the James River Park System. If you are a county resident, which many Park users are, you have the privilege of enjoying this regional attraction free of charge. I would argue that most regular Park users would value their time in the Park at more than $3 per year, and it is crucial that we provide this outlet for people to help us work with the city to get the Park the resources it needs to thrive.

Invasive Plant Task Force volunteersWe have done a lot with your donated dollars since I started in July of 2021. Here is a small snapshot of what we have been working on in just the past few months, and how donated funds have been used to further our mission this quarter. This is not an exhaustive list, just some of the highlights that give examples of the types of things that we help pay for in the Park.

  • $1,900- New binoculars for JRPS education staff to use in their field trips programs. These binoculars are already in use.
  • $5,000- Construction of the new JRPS outdoor classroom at the Reedy Creek HQ. The classroom project is part of a grant from the Virginia Department of Forestry and includes seating for around 30 students, a kiosk for instruction, and an improved water access ramp for students to use as a part of field trip and summer programming.
  • $16,500- Trail improvement work along the “upper trail” that runs from the 21st Street Tower to the Southern Bridge to Belle Isle. This project will widen, stabilize, and level a roughly 900-foot-long section of trail to make it more user-friendly. That project is expected to be completed in June/July.
  • $3,000- Building repair supplies for the Reedy Creek HQ. A tree fell on HQ in March and the operations team needed some extra funding for new boards to replace the ones destroyed by the tree. FOJRP paid for new boards to go along the whole length of the ramp at HQ so they would match. We are still looking for a funding partner to help us spruce up HQ/the Visitors Center in a bigger way.
  • $46,000- Improving the Eastern entrance to the North Bank Trail from the Tredegar Parking Lot. In partnership with a local foundation FORJP paid for this work entirely with donated dollars. This section of trail runs from the Tredegar Parking lot to the already paved section of trail that leads up to the Oregon Hill Overlook, creating additional paved trail access into the Park and making it easier for people to identify where the North Bank Trail starts in that area. This work was completed in early May.

We also spent money to pay our one full-time and one part-time employee, the two part-time contractors that we pay to coordinate invasive species removal in the park, the marketing contract that allows us to communicate effectively with our audience, and other expenses necessary to operate a small nonprofit organization.

Our budget for next year, which I will share more details on in a few weeks when it is fully approved by our board, includes ambitious funding goals for capital projects, environmental conservation, and direct operational support of JRPS staff. This budget was developed with the JRPS Master Plan in mind and allows us to adapt to new opportunities for Park expansion that might arise over the next year. It also includes some ambitious revenue targets, which is where we need your support!

Raging James PilsnerThere are many different ways for you to support FOJRP this summer and throughout the year. Donations of cash, stock and other securities are always welcome and tax-deductible. We are partnering with Legend Brewing on a beer to support the Park System, and there are always fun events like the Richmond Tool Bank’s Hammers & Ales program that give you the chance to come out and support the work that we do.

One of the most effective ways for you to make an impact on the Park is to support Friends of the James River Park with your donations this year. My call to action for this summer is simple – what is the James River Park System worth to you? Is it worth $1 each time you visit? $50 each year? $10 each month? Whatever that magic number is, we are asking for your support as we work to take on some pretty big projects next year.

If you would like to learn more specifics about the work that we do and our vision for the future, feel free to reach out to me at [email protected]

See you in the Park!

Help us Advocate for Increased Safety in the Park!

Help us Advocate for Increased Safety in the Park!

Maggie the OspreyGood afternoon Friends! It is that time of year in Richmond, the park is turning green again, people are getting outside, and Maggie the Osprey is waiting on her egg to hatch. Spring is also the time when the City government is working hard to finalize a budget, and we need your help to make sure that our parks stay strong.

The Mayor’s office has proposed a James River Park System operating budget of a little over $1.1 Million for FY 23. That is an increase of about $400,000 over what was approved for FY 22. In addition to that $1.1 Million, they have also proposed $100,000 for capital improvements to the Park. The proposed budget increase accounts for a 5% across-the-board pay increase, raises the lowest paid wage to $17/hr, and allows for the creation of a Park Ranger pilot program. This budget increase is really important for the success of the Park, and we want to make sure that we can give our new superintendent all the tools she needs to operate the Park.

Fun in the James River

The Park Ranger program is something that has us particularly excited. This pilot program would be based out of JRPS to start, and would eventually serve all of Richmond’s parks. The Rangers would keep Park users, and the Park itself, safe by enforcing existing Park rules. With a focus on setting a positive example for Park users, the aim of this program is to make our parks safer for more people and help create the culture of sustainability that we want to see thrive in our Park.

Rangers will have the ability to write citations for rule violations and would be able to request assistance when necessary from the Richmond Police. The Ranger program is an elegant solution to the flagrant rule violations that we all see in the Park every day. By helping to set an example for what good behavior looks like, we can hopefully curb the sorts of behaviors that are harmful to the Park and other Park users.

Richmond is lucky to have so many City Council members that support parks, especially the James River Park System, and now is a good time to reach out and let them know about the specific pieces of this budget. As far as we know, no one is actively opposed to this budget increase. However, it is their job to weigh all of the city’s priorities and make the best decisions they can. The most effective thing we can do is make sure they hear from us about how much we support our Park staff and want to see their vision fully funded.

Now is the time to be reaching out to your City Council members to let them know that you support our parks, and specifically that you support the creation of the Park Ranger program.Sunset Over the James

Click Here to learn more about how to contact your Council Members!

See you in the Park!

-Josh Stutz
Executive Director

All photography by Bill Draper – @billdraperphotography

Did You Leave More than Footprints?

Did You Leave More than Footprints?

Friends, I am frustrated. I would guess that if you are reading this blog post, you probably are too. I think I speak for most Friends of the James River Park that the best practice for enjoying a public space is to leave only footprints and take only memories. We do this out of respect for other people and for the sustainability of the Park. The Park can only be permanent if we all agree to use the Park responsibly, and unfortunately, I have seen evidence of some pretty irresponsible Park use lately.

Graffiti in the ParkIt makes me sad to see that so many people that use the Park choose to leave behind permanent reminders of their presence in the form of graffiti. Spray-painted and carved graffiti, especially on the rocks and trees, permanently alters the Park. We can not return rocks to their natural look once the paint has dried, and carvings can kill a tree. That damage is done. All we can reasonably do is paint over the graffiti in gray or brown paint to try and match the natural surroundings, which takes away from the natural beauty of the space we enjoy so much.

Graffiti removal uses up resources that could be used for trail improvements, or to otherwise improve our Parks. Friends of the James River Park is committed to finding solutions to the problem of graffiti in the Park, especially on the rocks and trees that make our space so beautiful. For now, that means painting over graffiti as often as we can. We are also exploring other solutions that might help us to re-enforce the “leave no trace” culture that we want to see thrive in our park.

I would bet money that if you are bothering to read this blog, you are not part of the problem, so I am asking you to be a part of the solution. We are organizing a few volunteer days in April and May dedicated to the task of painting over graffiti, particularly around Belle Isle. Please keep an eye on our social media and calendar for more information regarding those opportunities. Also please reach out to us at [email protected] if you see new graffiti in the Park. The longer we let it sit, the more people see it and think it is okay, and the worse it gets.

As always, if you would like to make a gift to support the work that we do, like graffiti removal, you can do so at https://jamesriverpark.org/support/make-a-donation/ 

Josh Stutz
Executive Director

Invasive Species Awareness Week!

Invasive Species Awareness Week!

We’re always working to improve the experience for everyone who enjoys the James River Park System, and much of that work is fostering a healthy natural environment. This means working to reduce litter, providing proper access to the trails and the James River, and more. One of our more persistent and ongoing tasks is the removal of invasive plants.

Invasive species—animal, plant, pathogen—wreak havoc on ecosystems by outcompeting native species, overrunning habitats, and decimating diversity. More than fifty invasive plant species from English ivy to Chinese privet threaten the well being and future of our parks, smothering trees and wiping out wildflowers. Since 2015 the Invasive Plant Task Force and volunteers have been hard at work to rescue and restore natural areas throughout the park system. Now is the perfect time to join them.

February 27th through March 5th is National Invasive Species Awareness Week, and our Invasive Plant Task Force has a full calendar of events planned. There will be opportunities to volunteer in the James River Park System, guided walks and educational programs, and a celebratory “Boogie for the Biosphere” on Friday, March 4th at Richmond’s Legend Brewery.

To learn more about the invasive plants that inhabit the James River Park System, click here.

Those wishing to volunteer or learn more about how to properly remove invasive plants should visit this link.

See the flyer below, or contact Laura Greenleaf, founder of the James River Park System Invasive Plant Task Force.

New CoStar logo

Help Us Advocate for Park Funding!

Help Us Advocate for Park Funding!

From Josh Stutz, Executive Director

Hello, Friends of the James River Park!

I hope you are all finding some time to enjoy the unique beauty of the Park this time of year. For a lot of us, January is a month when we are spending a little less time in the Park. The water is cold, the air is colder, and the trails are often too wet to hike/ride on without damaging the Park. In Richmond, January also marks the start of the Virginia General Assembly, and that is what I want to provide some information about today.

There are a few important pieces of legislation that Friends of the James River Park would like to update our stakeholders about. Most important to us are the proposed budget amendments to fund our JRPS Master Plan implementation to the tune of $15 million each year for two years. This would mark the most significant investment to date in the implementation of the plan and will allow the City of Richmond to complete many big-ticket improvements to the Park System that we love so much. These budget amendments were proposed by Senator Jennifer McClellan and Delegate Dawn Adams. We are grateful for their work in support of making the James River Park System the world-class attraction this city deserves.

The JRPS Master Plan was adopted by City Council in 2020 and is a flagship project of Friends of the James River Park. It is an extensive plan that outlines park expansion, improvement, and protection projects to be completed over a roughly 10-year period. The plan includes important items like the construction of outdoor education sites, trail infrastructure improvements, and the addition of new greenways so that Richmonders will have even more options to access our urban wilderness. You can view the JRPS Master Plan by clicking here.

Eagle Scout candidate Bennan OsbourneThe other relevant piece of this process is the proposed Outdoor Recreation Budget. Before leaving office Governor Northam proposed a budget that included $245 million for outdoor recreation in Virginia, $233 million of which would go towards improving and expanding recreational trails across the Commonwealth. There is still a long road ahead for this funding and we are asking for your support! You can support the recreational trails budget by clicking here to sign the petition.

The budget amendment process requires a little bit more work to support, and we promise it will be worth it. We are asking that you reach out to your legislators to let them know that you support items 375 #3s and 375 #16h to dedicate $30 million from the General Fund over the next two years for JRPS Master Plan implementation.

You can find out who your legislators are and how to contact them by clicking here and inputting your address information.

Here is a sample of some language you could use to let your representatives at the General Assembly know that you support the James River Park System and the funding for JRPS Master Plan implementation.

“Dear (Senator, Delegate Name)

            My name is (your name) and I support the implementation of the James River Park System Master Plan. I am asking you to support item 375 #3s (State Senate) and 375 #16h (House of Delegates), a budget amendment to fund JRPS Master Plan implementation.

Sitting at approximately 600 acres that stretch the length of the James River in Richmond, the James River Park System is one of the greatest examples of urban wilderness in the country. The park is home to a vast array of outdoor activities that were enjoyed by almost 2 million people in 2021. We want to see the park continue to thrive, and these funds would pay for permanent improvements that increase park access and usability.

           Please join us in our efforts to protect, expand, and enhance the James River Park System by supporting the proposed budget amendment during this General Assembly Session

Sincerely, (your name)”

It’s that easy to help us accomplish our goal of attaining these funds! Thank you for your continued support, and we’ll see you in the Park!

Enjoying Sunset

Own a Piece of the Park

Own a Piece of the Park

A friend of ours is a die-hard Yankees fan. He lives and breathes New York pinstripes.

He converted his garage into a New York Yankees shrine, with posters, pennants, hats, and a refrigerator. When the Yankees built a new stadium in the Bronx, he knew that he had an historic opportunity. So he drove up to visit “The House that Ruth Built”.

During baseball season, you can find him in his garage, screaming at his big screen television, while sitting in a row of original fold-down, wooden bleacher seats from old Yankee Stadium.

We may not have the history or notoriety of the legendary Yankees, but now you, too, can have an historic opportunity to own some James River Park System memorabilia.

Trail Hut was founded by Richmonder Evan Garrison with the mission to make outdoor experiences more accessible, more sustainable, and more community centered. They rent and repair outdoor adventure gear, and work as a sort of consignment shop for gently used clothing, tents, climbing ropes, and more. Trail Hut currently has a hoard of gently used James River Park signs.

Want a “high water” warning? A huge metal Park map? An admonition to pick up your litter?

Trail Hut has one. And each sign comes from inside the James River Park System. Bet of all, the proceeds from the sale of each sign helps to fund the programs, initiatives, and improvements spearheaded by the Friends of the James River Park System.

Follow this link to see Trail Hut’s sign collection.

Trail Hut signs

We’re Counting on You

We’re Counting on You

A message from Executive Director Josh Stutz:

Good morning Friends of the James River Park! I hope you all had a great holiday weekend filled with food, family, and the outdoors! I was able to spend time hiking at Pony Pasture park with my family on Friday and it was a great reminder of what the James River Park System means to so many people. I saw dozens of other people, and many of their dogs, out enjoying the trails, forests, and river that we all love so much. I am proud to be able to help protect, enhance, and expand the James River Park System, and if you are a supporter of our work then you should be too!

This is an important time for our organization. Having full-time staff dedicated to advancing the mission of FOJRP and the goals laid out in the Master Plan is going to make a difference in how the Parks are taken care of. I am optimistic about the many projects that are in our future. As we work to grow the organization and figure out what our next steps are your support becomes more important than ever.

One major improvement project we are working to support is the new handicap access ramp at the Pump House. The ramp will be built into the hillside on the north bank of the canal and will make it easier for people to get to the bridge over the canal. Currently there is only a very steep paved path to the bridge. This project is currently being funded through a mixture of State and City funding. The total combined government funding falls short of the estimated final cost of the project. This is an otherwise shovel-ready project and Friends of the James River Park is working to find ways to close a funding gap of around $50,000 to ensure that construction can begin by the start of Summer 2022. Once complete this project will make the Pump House and Pump House Park more accessible to all people, regardless of their mobility.

Josh Stutz and family, enjoying the park.

This Giving Tuesday we are asking you to support your James River Park System with a donation to Friends of the James River Park. These donations will be used for things like improving trails, creating new signage, expanding to new areas, and making major capital improvements to the Park. We need your help to ensure that the Park is the best that it can be, and that it will be around for future generations. If you would like to learn more about the different ways that you can support our work please feel free to contact me directly at [email protected].

Join us and make a gift to support the James River Park System today!

We did it!

We did it!

Josh Stutz, Executive Director

Josh Stutz, Executive Director

We did it! Richmond City leaders heard our message and on October 25th City Council voted to adopt the Mayor’s proposed spending plan for the $155 million funding on its way to Richmond thanks to the American Rescue Plan Act. 78 million of those dollars will be used to make an unprecedented investment in our parks and community centers. The proposal also includes a $20 million investment in the Affordable Housing Trust Fund, $5 million for a health equity fund, $5 million for first responder bonuses, and many other important items for the city. This is a downpayment on the city that we want Richmond to be and I am proud that the Friends of the James River Park is able to play a role in helping see this visionary plan to adoption.

The James River Park System will see around $14 million invested as a result of the adoption of this plan. Those funds will be used to make an urgently needed repair to park infrastructure and to create new greenways to provide better access to JRPS from the Southside of the city. The renewed Texas Beach Tower, James River Branch Trail, and Crooked Branch Bridge (a major part of the planned Reedy Creek Greenway) are all items identified in the JRPS Master Plan, which you can check out here. These three projects are planned to be completed by September of 2026.

Herons in the James River Park

Also included in the $78 million parks and community centers allocation is $1.5 million for land acquisition and $500,000 for a city-wide parks master plan. This funding will help create more and better green spaces across the city and could lead to more park space for JRPS.

I am excited to be sharing this news with you all, and this is just the first step! Now the real work begins. We have to stay engaged with the city through the design and planning process for these projects to ensure that our voice continues to be heard. This will be especially important when the Department of Parks, Recreation, and Community Facilities starts the public input phase of their master planning process.

Richmond Bar Association

A clean-uup at Pony Pasture.

As advocates for the James River Park System, our goal is to make sure that we are heard loud and clear on this, and all relevant issues. This work was made possible because so many of you heeded the call to action and contacted your city council members. Please continue to help us stay engaged with city leadership around important issues like this in the future.

Thank you for your support! I will see you in the park.

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.

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