We have some pretty exciting news! We hope that you’ll join us in welcoming the new Superintendent of the James River Park System: Giles Garrison!
From growing up in the shadow of Forest Hill Park and digging for treasure at Reedy Creek to devoting her professional career to the preservation of our natural and historic assets, Giles brings a love of the Park and an impressive skill set to her new role. As an Executive Director for both Groundwork RVA and Storefront for Community Design, Giles also displayed a passion for accessibility and inclusivity – two areas of vital importance to our Master Plan.
Not only is Giles our new Superintendent for the James River Park, she’s also this month’s ParkStar:
Giles shared her excitement with us in the blog that you see below:
Time vs. Day 1
35 million years ago the James River was formed when a massive asteroid hurtled into what is today the Chesapeake Bay, shooting cracks through the Earth’s crust and forming the topography of our state. Water plumed into the air and cascaded across the land, eventually streaming into a three-hundred-and-forty-mile river that runs from the Blue Ridge Mountains in Western Virginia, through Richmond, on its way back to the Bay.
15 thousand years ago, mastodon and massive prehistoric beavers roamed the fall line where you and I live. In that time, enormous quadrupeds ruled Richmond’s roost, and humans made their way in tiny nomadic families that survived by their spears and their wits.
416 years ago, two worlds collided when a ragtag group of English colonists found their way to the river’s mouth and sailed into what was then known as the Powhatan River, named for the Chief who maintained a sweeping alliance of diverse Native American societies spanning from the falls East to the Tidewater.
13 years later in 1619 twenty men, the first Africans in British America, stepped from that river onto land at Point Comfort. They were forcibly brought to Virginia by European traders to become the labor in the colony’s brutal plantation economy.
The James River tells the story of the people who lived America’s tumultuous and violent beginning.
What stories does the James tell us today? I bet you have one.
30 years ago, during a winter like this one, my brother and I set out to pull a log out of the James River at Flat Rock, which is what we called the big flat rock under the Nickel Bridge. What I remember is that while we were extremely professional, we quickly were in water up to our waists and our parents decided we had better head home. Stu and I took the log with us, all the way up 42nd Street to our house on Springhill Avenue. My stepdad made us each Honorary River Rat Club certificates which we hung on the kitchen wall.
The James River Park System is many things to Richmond, and it has been many things to me. My favorite time of year is when the paw paws turn yellow and seem to hover in the air over the Buttermilk Trail, making you feel transported to a magical place. Sometimes when I walk along parts of the Pipeline or the trails at Ancarrows Landing, I feel the hauntedness of the James River, the experience of acute loss that occurred here for Richmond’s African-American forebears. This is a part of our origin story.
The story continues to unfold. Running the Park’s trails and climbing Manchester Wall have been some of the most joyful times in my life because they happen in a place that is completely unique to Richmond and for all to enjoy. The James River Park System is place where you can lose yourself and find yourself, in company or on your own, always in nature. Today this Park, and all of our parks, are places where reconciliation and reconnection are possible.
When I think of the footsteps I follow on day one of this amazing job, I feel a great sense of humility. Ralph White, a true river spirit in tall white socks, sits among the pantheon of great Richmond leaders this city has seen. Nathan Burrell, superintendent #2, was a hands-on reformer and has long been a role model to me, and I hope will continue to be a mentor. Bryce Wilk, our most recent Superintendent, is a rising star in Richmond’s Parks Department and continues in the role of Manager of Southern District Operations. I’m overjoyed to step into the #4 spot as a Superintendent in this sacred place, and to work with you, Reader, to leave it better than we find it.
I hope we’ll be talking, whether it’s in the Park or in an email. I’d love to hear your river story. You can email me at [email protected] or post a picture on Instagram and tag @rvaparksandrec, @jamesriverpark, and @jrpsrichmond.
Thanks for sharing, happy New Year to you, and be safe out there.
I’ve been reading The River Where America Began, by Bob Deans. Most of the history above is drawn from that book, which a great read about the James River and its people over time.