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Ten Years of Conservation Easement and Other Milestones

Ten Years of Conservation Easement and Other Milestones

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.

A Wilderness Trail Doesn’t Build Itself. It Needs Parkstar Andrew Alli.

A Wilderness Trail Doesn’t Build Itself. It Needs Parkstar Andrew Alli.

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.

Support the Mayor’s Park Budget

Support the Mayor’s Park Budget

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.

That Doesn’t Go There

That Doesn’t Go There

There’s this really colorful little fish – Pterois volitans. Most folks know it as a Lionfish or Devil Firefish. They’re not incredibly huge, growing up to about 17 inches long. An adult might get as large as 2 or 3 pounds. They’re native to the Indo-Pacific, meaning the reefs around Australia, Japan, Polynesia, and parts of the Indian Ocean.

While they aren’t terribly large or full of teeth like a shark, they are voracious eaters. They do this cool bladder thing where they blow a jet of water at smaller fish, confusing their prey and orienting them so they point right into the jaws of the Lionfish. They’re also helped by an array of 18 venomous spines, which sort or resemble a lion’s mane – hence the moniker.

These spines and bright colors make the Lionfish attractive to fish fans, and that’s where the problem comes in.

It seems that in 1985, Hurricane Andrew destroyed an aquarium in Southern Florida, and a bunch of little Lionfish ended up in Biscayne Bay in Miami. They were cool with that, and eventually made their way into the Atlantic. There are now thousands and thousands of Lionfish calling the reefs of the Eastern Caribbean and Southern Atlantic coast home. Following the Gulf Stream, divers have found them as far north as Cape Hatteras. In the summer of 2013, a diver caught one off of Rehoboth Beach Delaware.

These little fish love to eat littler fish, and smart folks who study these kinds of things say that Lionfish are radically decimating native populations of fish and drastically changing the ecosystem…

…But that has nothing to do with the James River Park.

We have our own versions of Pterois volitans along the James. We have Pueraria montana, Ailanthus altissima, and Hedera helix. You may know them better by their street names – Kudzu, Tree-of-Heaven, and English Ivy.

Plants like kudzu and English ivy were introduced to Virginia on purpose. They grow quickly and spread like crazy, so they became popular with landscapers to provide greenery and stop erosion. But not everything green is good.

Kudzu can grow a foot a day. Tree-of-Heaven (or Stink Tree) can drop 700,000 seeds in a season. And when these plants enter an ecosystem, they tend to strangle or smother native plants. This disrupts the balance of the soil, changes the diets of animals, and often leads to more erosion, which changes our water quality.

That’s where the James River Park System’s Invasive Plant Task Force come in.

Almost everyone on this team is a volunteer. They spend hours in the woods throughout the Park, grasping at roots, clipping at vines, and sawing at limbs. Once an area is cleared, they can go back and plant native grasses and trees. This helps to restore the woods and marshes of the James River Park to what they were long before humans were around.

There are always several spots throughout the Park that need attention, and they’re always looking for a helping hand or two.

(Image via Alexander Vasenin from Wikimedia Commons)

New Path at Manchester Climbing Wall

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This spring, with a $14,000 grant awarded to Groundwork RVA from the National Park Service, work will begin on a dedicated path connecting the Floodwall to the T. Potterfield Memorial Bridge. This path will divert traffic from the climbing area to provide a safer experience for both climbers and those who are just “passing though.” The work will include removal of invasive species, improvements to the bridge stairs and new signage. This effort supports Groundwork RVA’s mission to provide youth programs that occupy a hands-on role in creating positive changes to enhance green spaces in Richmond communities.

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New Water Fountain at Tredegar Street

Thanks to funding provided by JROC, Venture Richmond and JRPS there is a new year-round two bowl water fountain available to refresh both people and pets. Look for the new installation in the Tredegar Street parking lot.

Goats Mow Down Invasive Species at Manchester Climbing Wall!

The goats employed by Park Staff through support of the Friends have managed to fight back the invasive species overburdening the Manchester Climbing Wall area. Thanks to their endless appetites the area looks great and the first step in the long process of minimizing invasive species in this area is complete. The next step is to cut back many of the vine and root systems to limit the growth followed by a few more visits from the goats next Spring. To learn more about the Invasive Species Task Force.

And work on the invasive species plan receive a financial boost thanks to a $10,000 grant from Universal Leaf Tobacco.

North Bank Trail Bridges Re-Built

New Bridge on North TrailThe North Bank Trail has re-opened after Park Trail Crews completed re-building the first bridge on the trail when heading west from Tredegar. The trail was closed for three days while staff rebuilt the dated bridge.

T. Tyler Potterfield Bridge update

The south entrance to the T. Tyler Potterfield Bridge is back open! The ramp was repaved to ensure compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act. The grade of the slope of the prior ramp was too steep for compliance.

New Grant for the Manchester Climbing Wall

The Richmond Chapter of the American Alpine Club recently awarded a $1,500 grant to repair and improve the Manchester Climbing Wall and surroundings. Volunteers from the Club as well as JROC will carry out the improvements, which will include rebolting walls, replacing wooden benches, refurbishing gravel pathways and providing a new information kiosk. The work will be done in February and March.

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