News & Events » Park Improvements
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.
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)
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