It takes a lot of work to make the James River Park System beautiful.
We know what you’re thinking: When we wake up each morning, it’s just there. Pristine urban wilderness for you to enjoy.
What you might not know is that it takes a ton of effort to ensure that the Park is ready for visitors every day.
With a modest staff and thousands of volunteer hours, trails are maintained. Invasive plants are trimmed and removed, and native plants added and nourished. Signs are replaced, restrooms are painted, and bridges are rebuilt.
One of the most stubborn of ongoing tasks, which takes up thousands of valuable labor hours every year, is cleaning up after less responsible Park users. Having to divert resources to trash pickup and vandalism removal prevents James River Park System staff from being able to complete the Park improvement projects that we all want to see.
One way for you to support our James River Park System staff and be a good steward of the Park is to practice a “Leave No Trace” habit when you visit. In an ideal world this means that when you’ve finished your day of hiking/biking/paddling/whatever else and are relaxing on your sofa, no one will be able to tell that you went to the Park. It also means staying on the trails, cleaning up after your pets, and avoiding the urge to carve your name into a tree. Most of all, it means that anything that entered the Park with you will leave the Park with you.
Those plastic bags like you get at the grocer are one of the leading sources of worldwide litter, and it is no different in the Park. If you walk along the banks of the James River, you can see them knotted through the branches and roots of the trees. The bags ultimately end up there every time we have a heavy rain. While there are some ways to recycle them, they seem to last as litter forever. Being conscious of what you are bringing into, and out of, the park is a great way to support the JRPS staff who work so hard to make this resource available to us.
Along with being mindful about plastic bags, glass bottles are another thing to avoid when enjoying the Park. When the weather warms up, many of us will flock to spots like Texas Beach, Pony Pasture, or Belle Isle to take in the sun. We’ll also get thirsty. It is important to remember when planning what to bring with you on your Park visit to avoid glass bottles.
Much like oil and water don’t mix, glass and rocks are a poor combination. In addition to being unsightly litter, broken glass in the river and on the rocks presents a safety hazard for other Park visitors. Glass breakage can be accidental, and it is best to avoid it altogether. To avoid littering with broken glass, please don’t bring glass bottles into the Park. This is a rule spelled out on the Park signs.
One item that seems so insignificant makes a huge impact on our litter problem in the Park: cigarette butts. Nearly 40% off all collected litter is from cigarettes.
It would seem that a cigarette is mostly paper and tobacco, and so would be of little impact to the Park. The filter common on most cigarettes, however, is made of plastic fibers. The filter and tobacco are packed with chemicals like arsenic and lead, and in addition to being harmful to any animals that might confuse them for food, those chemicals eventually leach into the James. It can take up to a decade for a cigarette butt to break down naturally.
In addition to helping to keep our Park beautiful, you are also helping yourself avoid a ticket for littering by following these simple suggestions. This past July, the Virginia General Assembly rewrote the laws around litter. Those convicted of illegally littering already faced a maximum fine of $2,500 and up to 12 months in jail, but the minimum fine for littering rose from $250 to $500.
At most every entrance into the James River Park System and in many of the popular recreation areas, you’ll find trash receptacles and recycling bins. Keeping the Park beautiful is the job of everyone who uses it. Please discard of all of your waste or take it home with you. If you see litter in the Park, please take a moment to pick it up. Encourage your friends and others in the Park to do the same thing.
Leave No Trace of your visit to the James River Park System. It’s not only a rule, it is the right thing to do!