Saturday, October 17th was a good day in the James River Park System and the City Of Richmond. It will be one of those days a Park Superintendent will look back on with a smile and as a reaffirmation as to all the good reasons a person chooses a career in parks.
First, the weather was perfect. The “shoulder” season of autumn offers glimpses of what winter will bring. Crisp mornings greet you at the door, where a person must dust off that light jacket or long sleeve shirt for the first time since last spring, only to give way to short sleeves and sweat in the afternoon as a reminder of those hot summer days. Second, autumn slows down time so that we can focus on projects and be proactive instead of reactive in the park world. Lastly, Saturdays in the Park bring about a wide variety of park users and guests, some that have visited a thousand times, and some their very first time!
The James River Park System served as a host to 3 very involved volunteer events on October 17th that will have lasting impacts on the Park for years to come. It also served as a way for our staff to come together and collaborate, share ideas with each other, and be involved with the Park community and support organizations.
Volunteer project number 1 involved invasive plant removal at the Wetlands Park. With funding from the Virginia Department of Forestry, Friends of James River Park System and Invasive Plant Task Force, Virginia Environmental Endowment and several other organizations that wish to remain anonymous, the Wetlands Restoration Project has been an ongoing effort of removing invasive plant species and restoring natural habitat for over a year. We had 4 very dedicated volunteers venture down to the beautiful Wetlands Park in order to remove hundreds of pounds of Invasive Plants like the Bush Honeysuckle. This dedicated group did such a good job, they completely cleared over an acre of invasive shrubs and built several mounds as large as dump trucks, as you can see from the photo!
Volunteer project number 2 is part of naturally beautifying the Park entrances and parking lots in the JRPS, previously done at Ancarrow’s Landing last month. We want to make a positive first impression and the 21st Street Tower Beautify Project will now likely do just that. We worked collaboratively with the James River Outdoor Coalition (JROC), who helped sponsor the project. The 21st Street Tower was in major need of erosion control, path rehabilitation, sanding and staining of the kiosk, and some native planting. Starting at 9am, volunteers from JROC, students from VCU and local high schools, and the general public gathered, distantly, and divided into groups to take on the various tasks. There are several hundred feet of slate pathways in the area. Almost all of the slate rock had to be reestablished and filled in with crushed rock. The volunteers, armed with enthusiasm and energy, used, shovels, tampers, attention to detail, and wheel borrows to get the paths looking brand new!
Other volunteers tackled the erosion issues. This was done in a multitude of ways. Some groups helped dig holes and put in split rail fencing at strategic locations, others scraped away old debris deposits, while a highly motivated group moved small boulders, by hand and the mastery of physics, to deter park users from going off trail onto sensitive areas. Even with all of those things going on, a few other volunteers grabbed sanding tools and began to sand and stain our large timber kiosk at the entrance, essentially giving it a facelift and preserving it for years to come. There is still more to do, and we plan to host another event for mulching and planting the garden beds in the area, reducing water and erosion run off and beautifying the area with our native flora!
Volunteer Project number 3 saw history and the environment come together as Friends of Pump House Park (FOPHP) and Invasive Plant Task Force collaborated to plant 70 native trees and shrubs purchased locally from TreeLab. This was the conclusion of the Riparian Buffer Project at Pump House. Since March volunteers have been removing invasive plants from the park and off historical structures in the area in order to more firmly re-establish a healthy native buffer in and around the Pump House Park. The native plants included shrubs like winterberry with its bright red fruit, Black Gum with vibrant orange leaves as the fall sets in, red bud trees that will bloom with spectacular purple flowers in the spring, and witch hazel to line the paths. The planting is the culmination of hard months of removal of invasives such as multiflora rose, tree of heaven, and privet which all cover and outcompete our natives and provide no real ecological value in our current ecosystem. The families and FOPHP did a wonderful job in planting and will reap the benefits of the native plants for years to come.
As I sit at my desk with dried sweat, dirty pants, and blistered hands I can’t help but smile. Each day in a park is a new adventure and you never see the same day twice, but reliving this day wouldn’t be terrible. I will remember October 17th for a long time, and I didn’t even get to mention the rounding up of 180 non-native geese from Byrd Park!
- Bryce Wilk