The City of Richmond’s Department of Parks, Recreation and Community Facilities (PRCF) has a track record of adapting to the needs of Richmond residents when the need arises. With the arrival of the life-threatening COVID19 pandemic in Richmond communities, PRCF leaders and staff have stepped into a crucial frontline role. Wearing green safety vests, a new team of 20 PRCF men and women formed a public health and safety task force to ensure that Richmond’s James River Park remains a safe place for families and residents of all ages.

The weekend of April 3-5th marked the beginning of the James River Park System monitoring program in which the city’s recreational and administrative staff joined with James River Park maintenance crew to manage crowds in the city’s largest park system, which sees upwards of 2 million visitors per year.

JRPS maintenance technicians partnered with PRCF recreational staff in seven “hot spots” throughout the James River’s miles of trails, islands, fishing posts, climbing areas, and pedestrian bridges. Monitoring stations included Pony Pasture and Wetlands area; Tredegar Street, Potterfield Bridge and North Bank Trail; Riverside service road; Belle Isle; Texas Beach and Pump House; 14th Street boat access ramp, Shiplock Park, and Chapel Island; and Ancarrow’s Landing, Manchester Bridge, the Slave Trail, and Buttermilk Trail.

While advising large groups to disperse, to keep a minimum distance of six feet clearance on the trails, and clearing sun bathers and illegal PBR-drinkers from Texas Beach, each crew took on a variety of important maintenance tasks. Clearing litter, painting over graffiti, cutting brush from rights of way, and answering visitors’ questions about park rules during the pandemic were some of the tasks that park monitors carried out throughout the first weekend of the program.

Notably, for some PRCF staff the new beat in James River Park was a first exposure to JRPS. Kim Morgan and Tammy Toliver enjoyed their first visit to Texas Beach and Richmond’s historic Pump House and Bennett Brown monitored visitors while mountain biking the Belle Isle/ Boulevard Bridge service road with his team. In total, PRCF dispersed hundreds groups of youth and young adults, advised hikers and bikers to spread the 6-foot rule on the trail, and ensured that illegal drinking and drug use was effectively managed by the Richmond Police Department, which worked with PRCF throughout the weekend.

This was especially true for the Texas Beach area, where sun bathing, alcohol consumption, and drug use sometimes take place during the spring and summer months. JRPS monitors called the Richmond Police Department non-emergency line when crowds began to form on the rocks and beaches of the river. The police arrived at Texas Beach and were able to respond to the illegal activity effectively due to the partnership between PRCF and RPD.

JRPS maintenance was not neglected: teams collected ten bags of trash from Belle Isle and Texas Beach, closed parking lots, cut brush away from trails to create wider right of ways, and reduced illegal activity in the park throughout the weekend. By Sunday afternoon, word about the “green vests” spread on social media, the news working its way through the Richmond community that PRCF is a partner in keeping the public safe, even in extraordinary pandemic times.

As JRPS Superintendent Bryce Wilk stated, “It does not matter if you work in an office, in a community facility, the recreational field or at another park, we all came together as one team and showed the City of Richmond, no matter what emergency is present, we unite and work as one Park!” The JRPS monitoring program is anticipated to continue on weekends and on high visitation days throughout the spring of 2020.