By Superintendent Bryce Wilk
Dear Unsung Park Steward,
With over 7 miles of river, annual visitation of 2 million people and growing, and over 600 acres, caring for the James River Park System (JRPS) does not rest solely on the shoulders of the 5 full-time staff members. When looking at the evolution of this river, the City Of Richmond, and the James River Park System, there has been one constant: the passion of the people.
When interviewing for the position of Superintendent of the James River Park System, walking up to the Stone House at Forest Hill Park, with some butterflies fluttering in my stomach, not knowing what to expect, I opened the double doors to the main meeting room and in front of me was a semi-circle of a dozen people all staring back at me! With this type of attention, I would usually feel uneasy, but the folks staring back at me were warm and welcoming, instantly putting me at ease. While introducing myself with handshakes (Pre-COVID-19), I was struck that nearly every person in the room did not work for the city, but were representatives of the community and organizations that support the James River Park System. I instantly knew this job was for me. If people care this much to volunteer to be part of the hiring process, I can only imagine how much they care for the river!
Which brings me to our irreplaceable, unsung, and amazing Park stewards. Each weekend the JRPS is inundated by tens of thousands of visitors seeking recreation, adventure, relaxation, family enjoyment, respite from the heat, and sometimes to let off some steam. With our small staff, we try to keep up with trash and recycling and general maintenance of the park, but we can be overwhelmed.
This is where our Park stewards shine the brightest!
Without seeking recognition, there are people who take it upon themselves to keep watch of the river and James River Park.
I want to take this opportunity to say thank you!
Thank you to those who hike the trails with grocery bags, cleaning up pieces of forgotten food wrappers and microtrash.
Thank you to the boaters who collect lost microfilament fishing line and lures hanging like Christmas ornaments on our trees while paddling along our river shoreline.
Thank you to the dogwalkers who bring extra pet waste bags to assist people who forgot their own pet waste bags.
Thank you to the trail runners who use their water bottles to put out small unauthorized camp fires from parties the night before.
Thank you to the bikers who report a tree across a trail or remove small branches from the trail before the next trail user has an accident.
Thank you to the community members who contributed to the James River Park System Master Plan by voicing their opinion through attending a public meeting or filling out a survey. And thank you for your continued support as we implement this plan.
Thank you to the families who simply say “thank you” and recognize the efforts of our park staff on 100 degree days while they are recreating in this treasured place.
These unsung Park stewards don’t just lead by example, they INSPIRE by example.
Our Park System that so many people enjoy would look completely different and not for the better, without the dedication of these unsung heroes.
* Feature Image via Dave Parrish Photography