Posts Tagged ‘environment’

Deepwater Sponger at Rocketts Landing asks for more fresh water

“Deepwater Sponger” at Rocketts Landing There is a new sculpture in Richmond at Rocketts Landing. “Deepwater Sponger” was lowered into place Thursday. 

“Deepwater Sponger” was lowered into place Thursday, Nov. 19The cast iron figure is a short and stout sort, toting two weights and rests on a bed of concrete that is in the shape of machinery cogs. Definitely worth checking out on your way to diner or drinks at the restaurant next door, The Boathouse at Rocketts Landing.

The statue is part of a series calling attention to the global threat to the world’s fresh water. It is scheduled to be in Richmond for at least two years.

The “Deepwater Sponger” statue next to The Boathouse at Rocketts Landing WHAT:  “Deepwater Sponger” at Rocketts Landing on at 5000 Old Osborne Turnpike. 

ARTIST: Charlie Ponticello.

DEDICATION:  November 18, 2010.

DESCRIPTION: A six-foot, 2,000-pound cast iron sculpture that was previously located at Baltimore’s Inner Harbor and on the campus of Johns Hopkins University. The sculpture is one in a series of five “spongers” designed to call attention to the global threat to the world’s fresh water. It sits on a bluff overlooking the James River between the Sky Line condominium building and The Boathouse at Rocketts Landing. 


Recovering one plot at a time at Evergreen Cemetery

Clearing Evergreen CemeteryI helped bring Oliver A. Scott and Edloe B. Scott back to life.

Not really, but their burial plots at Evergreen Cemetery are at least once again free from the shackles of garbage, ivy, broken trees and ravages of Mother Nature reclaiming a forgotten landscape.

It took at least four hours of work, but a group of volunteers and I worked to reclaim the lost cemetery. It is a daunting task to completely remove more than half a century of neglect, but rewarding. This kind of work needs to be delicate so as not to disturb the graves — you can’t just clear-cut the entire landscape.

Volunteers from VCU at Evergreen CemeteryFormed in 1891 in Richmond’s East End, the express purpose of the Evergreen Cemetery Association was to establish a black cemetery that would rival Hollywood Cemetery.  It became the final resting place of many of Richmond’s leading African-American citizens, including Maggie Lena Walker, John Mitchell, Jr., and Rev. Andrew Bowler.

Opened with no means for perpetual care, the cemetery has been left unchecked and is overgrown by trees, ivy (poison and English) and weeds. It has also been terribly vandalized and is littered with dumped garbage.

Volunteers at Evergreen CemeteryThe regular volunteers got there start in Summer 2008 when they took the challenge to search for the grave of Pearl Williams.  What is has become is a quest to find another several thousand lost sites, one by one.

One of the main organizers, John Shuck, called the effort an archeological dig, landscape clearing and genealogical search all in one. I agree. As we worked, I got the feeling that I was resurrecting history — reclaiming something beautiful and valuable that had been lost.

The path coming back to life at Evergreen CemeteryI met a wonderfully delightful and invested 12-year-old boy, Noah (green jacket, above), who comes out with his father, Mike, every weekend. Noah was quite experienced with encouraging and guiding volunteers on what needed to be done and helping set goals within a three-hour work time frame.

We picked a plot that had a suspected path next to it and by the end of the day the group had cleared two and a half plots and uncovered the path. Envisioning a goal and attacking it.  Plus, the conversation was uplifting and positive — a great environment for giving your time for a good cause.

Oliver A. Scott family plot at Evergreen CemeteryClearing the cemetery will take years, and the small core of volunteers needs your help. Rally your friends and family and give three hours of your time one Saturday morning. Get a troop together. As you can see at right, we got a lot accomplished in one day. Compare it with the photo at top, which was after about an hours work.

See more:
Evergreen Cemetery Families: Yahoo Group & Twitter
Richmond Times-Dispatch: Michael Paul Williams
Church Hill People’s News: Evergreen Cemetery
Flickr photo group: Evergreen Cemetery

Newtown Ancarrow: A hero to James river

I’ve been reading an excellent book, True Richmond Stories, by Harry Kollatz Jr. It is billed as selections from his “Flashback” column in Richmond Magazine.  Many great stories that I’ve been familiar with for years, mixed with many more that I knew little about, topped with a dozen or more than that were new to me. 

Thank you Harry. You are the newest Richmonder I aspire to emulate. 

One of the stories I knew little about was that of Newton Ancarrow, a scientist turned master boat builder who died in 1991. His old marina is now a park in the James River Park System, named for him. 

Kollatz’s article (June 2003) painted Ancarrow as an environmentalist: “Pioneer James River conservationist Newton Ancarrow didn’t realize the extent of his success.”

Ancarrow’s late 1950s and early 1960s boatbuilding informed him of the James River’s deplorable condition. He in public compared it to “the Ganges River at Banaras in India.”

In 1969, Ancarrow cofounded Reclaim the James Inc., and he advocated the construction of a floodwall to protect the city’s water filtration plant. The Virginia Wildlife Foundation, among others, celebrated Ancarrow’s work. Yet, throughout the 1970s, Ancarrow was considered an annoyance by government and corporate officials.

Ancarrow's Landing in downtown Richmond is a boat landing for the James River Park SystemAncarrow’s Landing is not the most attractive park in the JRPS. It is a functional boat landing in the tidal waters of the James, popular with fisherman and motor boaters. The acreage is largely dedicated to parking and the southside park is but a sliver along the shoreline. The small series of trails in the park are mostly made my fisherman looking for the right spot to cast their lines. 

The “nature preserve” feel one can appreciate with the western portions of the park system that are above the fall line is harder to detect at Ancarrow’s Landing.  The views of the flat river there are more industrial, but at least there are some decent views of the Richmond skyline and Libby Hill. Also, the Richmond Slave Trail originates at the infamous Manchester Docks, which are a part of the park.

JRPS manager Ralph White once gave me good audio describing the virtues of Ancarrow’s Landing that I incorporated with photos of the park. In editing (in 2007), I focused on the current usage of the park, but I’ll bet that Ralph would have had much more to say on its history if I’d asked.

Ralph always talks about the melting pot that Ancarrow’s becomes each spring during the fish runs, with all the different dialects and nationalities casting together into the James river. He often tells the story of how one afternoon on a visit to Ancarrow’s, he “overheard eight different languages — nine if you count a New Yorker.”

I’ve always thought of Ancarrow’s Landing as the Ugly Duckling of the James River Park System. Envisioning the JRPS as a football team, Ancarrow’s Landing would be the kicker — everybody hates the kicker, but you’ve got to have one. Ancarrow’s Landing is the only true boat launch in the system, and is a necessary cog in the park’s repertoire.

My impression has changed. I now see it as a victory for the good guy and I’m glad Ancarrow was moved to help save the river. More from Kollatz:

Ancarrow wanted officials to see the river after heavy rains released millions of gallons of raw sewage into the James. Ancarrow observed struggling masses of eels and catfish at this dock, trying to escape. He would observe them “with the skin digested off them.”

Ancarrow testified about the river’s health to an apathetic city council around 1966. He bought a large jar filled with putrid water, in which floated a condom and a dead rat. Council dismissed his evidence.

He then produced a powerful, prescient documentary film called The Raging James, shot from helicopters, boats and on shore. It aired on public television station WCVE, and Ancarrow showed it to anyone who would watch. Views of waste pouring into the James forced Richmond and the State Water Control Board to take measures against river pollution.

This is the information about Ancarrow that I had missed.  He is now a saint in my eyes. When you hear of people dedicated to a cause that refuse to give up because they know they are doing the right thing, doesn’t it always get you fired up?

Instead of imagining that we’re making Ralph White and Peter Bruce smile whenever my family gathers trash on our outings to the river, I will now think of Newton Ancarrow instead. Take this quote from White in Kollatz’s article:

He staunchly defended the river, and the city owes him a tremendous debt. He deserves to be memorialized.

NOTE: No, I’m not promoting Richmond Magazine because of my twitter account being mentioned in an article (though it’s amazing how many people pointed it out to me).

James River Journal: Night of river stories

I attended the Night of Storytelling and book signing for the James River Journal: A Year in the Life of a River last week, and it was great to reconnect with Richmond Times-Dispatch friends, meet some new ones and learn a little more about the James.

Writer Rex Springston (left) and photographer P. Kevin Morley

Writer Rex Springston and photographer P. Kevin Morley of the RTD are former co-workers of mine, and men I look up to in the media profession. They are in the business for some of the same reasons I am — one of them being the love of storytelling.

Of course, another is a love of the James river. I enjoyed the monthly James River Journal series and hope the Times-Dispatch learned their lesson and continue to allow their journalists to do enterprise work.

The night had six speakers, not including Rex and Kevin. All had their hand in the newspaper series that was repackaged for the book. All had different stories to tell, but the theme of the night could easily have been “The James Is So Much Cleaner Now.”

I’ve read several history books on Richmond, and none of them touch on this dark side of the history of the James — at least not in-depth. Maybe I just haven’t read the right books.

When I came to Richmond in 1988, the river was relatively clean by sight and smell and I have never had this fear of the “dirty old James” that so many speakers brought up. I’ve certainly read newspaper and magazine articles, but Richmond’s history books seem to ignore this long and shameful period that lasted more than six decades. The trashing of the James had as much to do with shaping the history our city as the Falls of the James did in forcing Capt. Christopher Newport to stop at Shockoe Valley when his ships could sail no further up river.

Richmond used the river as its sewer in those days. Storm drains ran into the creeks and streams that feed directly into the James. Industry was largely unchecked. Fishing regulations weren’t strict. We had dams blocking fish from their spawning grounds. It was a mess, and we were killing all the nature that lived off and around the river.  We were killing the perception of the river too — people didn’t respect it or protect it and no one wanted to play in it.

Bryan Watts, a biologist, spoke of the numbers of breeding eagle pairs being up to 130, osprey pairs up to 500 and great blue heron pairs up to 1,500. Those numbers are up from zero in the 80s. He would know — it’s his job to count and study them. The big cause for the loss of the birds was the chemicals DDT and Kepone.

Photographer David Everette was good to hear from and meet. He said he has been photographing the James since the 70s and he seldom goes to the river without his camera. He lamented that he chose not to photograph the bad things he had seen in the James in 70s and 80s and he wishes now that he had — for context — to emphasis just how good we have it these days.

People protect it now. Worship it even. Paddlers, bikers, bird watchers, fishermen, adventurers, businessmen, educators, fathers, mothers, children….so many levels of people appreciating and helping keep the James clean.

Snorkeler Chris Hull had some creative ideas to enhance the river. He suggested the City of Richmond should acquire Mayo Island and add it to the James River Park System. The city should complete renovations to the Pump House and reopen the canal to cruises from there.

Click for larger image

This bridge over the Manchester Dam is ripe for creating a fantastic walkway between Brown's Island and Manchester

My favorite idea of his was to fix what would be a footbridge between Brown’s Island and the Manchester climbing wall. There is a rusty old bridge there now, but only maybe 15% of the bridge is accessible as a walkway. Extending it could create many more ways to enjoy and view the river and the downtown skyline. The multiple usages for this walkway with all the adventure games that Richmond hosts are exciting. So brilliant an idea that I’ve already walked across it many times in my mind.

Ralph White, manager of the JRPS, described the park as “wilderness in the heart of a city, managed by citizens….you.” He emphasized that how volunteers and communities manage the JRPS “is what defines us as a community.”

Ralph White, manager of the James River Park System

Ralph depends on an army of volunteers to keep the parks clean. He told a story of when he first was hired as park manager in the 80s, a time when the park was new and not respected like it is now. He encountered some very embarrassing graffiti in front of a class of children and called the city department in charge of having it removed. He was told it would take at least two weeks for them to get to that. Unacceptable. It had to come done immediately.

Ralph decided to do it himself, and from then on decided he would have volunteers get the job done if he couldn’t rely on help from city departments. He hasn’t looked back, and the JRPS has never had to take a step back either.

If you are reading this, then you have likely been to at least some part of the James River Park System or some spot on the James. On any weekend, no matter where you are, someone is working on a project to help the river. Volunteer to help, even for just an hour. You will feel better, and the river will be better for everyone.

Tiniest turtle down at Reedy Creek

My wife and I had just ended a paddle from Huguenot to Reedy Creek.  It was her first run, and we had an afternoon without the kids, and just the river to entertain us.

She listened to me all day (in reality, an entire year) talking on and on about Warren Foster, a great lover of the James that I’d met through randomly-orchestrated maneuvers I made in hopes of doing a story on him (which I did).

The maneuvers involved me leaving a note for Warren at gate of Pony Pasture’s parking lot, the best place for him find it. He volunteers for the James River Park System, taking care of nearby Williams Island and unlocking the gates to Pony Pasture every day.

I knew of him because I’d asked park manager Ralph White how Warren got his name on a sign on the portage trail at Williams Island. Ralph said Warren was a volunteer, but that he didn’t have his phone number…. Anyway. my trick worked and Warren called me the next day. He also ended up introducing me to the Atlas of the James, which I’ve used heavily in my research and adventures.

Back to my story.

Sure enough, Warren surprisingly paddles up in his old and scarred sit-on-top kayak same time we did at Reedy Creek at the end of our run.  We were amazed at the coincidence, but considering that Warren is on the river as much as God will allow him to be, the percentages weren’t that low. 

So while we were exchanging more James river stories, an amazing thing happened.

Tiniest turle

Tiniest turtle

We looked down at a little brown “rock” MOVING. Digging its way out of the sand along the shoreline at the takeout.  It was a turtle — maybe a river cooter or a snapping turtle (I checked with this JRPS page). Smallest thing I can imagine, probably the size of an acorn.

We marvelled at nature, exchanged a few more stories and remarks and headed home. Warren noted that my kayak had a few more scuffs and scratches on it, which reminded me of his best quote that I often reuse: “It doesn’t get scratched up sitting in the garage.”

That kayak trip was in October of 2008.  I hope to get down to Reedy Creek for a walk or two — if not a paddle — and see if the wonders of nature are again in full swing. Turning rocks into turtles….

Trish's hand looks huge in comparison

Trish's hand looks huge in comparison

Cleaning the James, cleansing the soul

I spent time this Saturday picking up trash with a group in memory of Jerry A. Nutter.  It was great to meet Dave Nutter’s mother, sister and other friends and share a little time with other people who love the James river.

It was a good time and I was surprised that the river was as clean as we found it to be. That said, my son Mitchell and I collected a full large trash bag of bottles, cans, plastic, clothing, etc., over about a mile of shoreline and among the rocks.  That’s also considering that were trailing the main group most of the way, so we were finding what they missed.

Other than the satisfaction I got for cleaning the river (hitting spots I’ve been meaning to grab for months), the best was watching Mitchell make a friend and play.  The little 4-year-old boy, Baydon, his mother, Alicia, and his little brother were great companions for us. 

Watching the boys play on the rocks and in the river and make games out of nothing reminded me of when I was a kid. There were times I’d find myself in what I thought were random places and events, only to discover the joy that would come from just playing while my parents would go about their business. 

It’s easy to forget as we get older and busier that little kids just need to play, and a clean river makes a great place for adventure (and to get yourself dirty).

Sliding in sand under the Manchester Bridge

Sliding in sand under the Manchester Bridge

Mitchell and Baydon get dirty

Mitchell and Baydon get dirty

Williams Island and Warren Foster

Warren Foster

Warren Foster

Have you ever found yourself walking, running, biking or paddling along Riverside Drive near Pony Pasture and wanted to know more about that big island across the river?

That’s Williams Island. A 95-acre blend of nature, history and serenity [see slideshow].

Richmonder Warren Foster adopted the portage trail in Spring of 2007.  He even has his own brown park sign at the head of the trail. He gets out there early most mornings to play a little, see the island and maybe work on the trail.

“Sunrise is the best time to see the island,” Foster said.  “I go our there all the time … I know that portage trail gets used a lot.”

He assumes there is a lot of fisherman that use the trail, and walk along the edge of island.

“Evidentially there’s good fishing there,” Foster said.

The island has always been a popular fishing spot, according to Ralph White, park manager for the James River Park System. There are worn foot paths through the wild underbrush all around the island, most likely “maintained” and shared by a combination of fisherman and wildlife.

The relatively flat and heavily vegetated Williams Island is in the middle of the James River. There are two distinctly different channels to the north and south of the island and both are blocked by dams, built to help divert water into the city’s purification plant.

On the south side, most people are familiar with the highly visible Z-dam.  According to the Falls of the James, by David Ryan, it was rebuilt in 1932, replacing a dam of loose rocks. It was altered with a 30-foot notch in 1993 to allow migratory fish species such as shad, river herring and striped bass to swim upstream.

The north channel is much more peaceful and calm, with the serenity broken up only by the occasional train.  The dam was constructed in 1905 and begins at the northeast shore of the island and runs across the river to a portion of the north bank known as “Dead Man’s Hill,” as documented by Ryan.

There used to be a gravel pit and stone quarry on the island, which extended to the south bank of the river along Riverside Drive, according to White.  The stone was carried across the James to the Kanawha Canal and ported down river.

An interesting feature that adventurous people can see today is an archway beneath the train tracks on the north bank below a spillway on the canal. “There was a crane there, and they would load stone and quarry rocks to sail them to downtown … before the railroad was there,” Foster said. 

“The neat thing about Williams Island is the nature,” Foster said. “One day, a river otter came walking up, stopped, looked up at me and just walked off. They normally stay in the water, so that was cool.”

He has seen herds of deer, fox and birds.  “I’ve been told there’s a bear but I haven’t seen him.”

White confirmed, saying that Williams Island has a small male black bear.  He also noted that there used to be an albino deer that made Williams Island it’s home.  Other animals include raccoons, muskrat, skunk and wild turkey.

Maybe someone (or something) else is out there?

“There was series of big prints around the [portage] trail,” Foster said. “I have all these pictures.  I think there’s big foot out there.”

“There is a greater purpose to my work at Williams Island,” Foster said of his care for the portage trail. “I’d like to see it become part of the James River Park System.”

According to White, Williams Island belongs to the City of Richmond Public Utilities Department, but is under the care of the JRPS. 

Public utilities has given the JRPS permission to maintain the island and the general public is allowed to visit the island and the surroundings.  When the water levels of the James are low, people can often reach the island easier by rock hopping.

“We’d like it included as a wildlife refuge,” White said.  He illustrated this by saying that when you look at a color map of the river, Williams Island appears in white, not the familiar green that show that it is park land.

“I’d like to see [Williams Island] be green on a map.”

But under the current arrangement, would the island ever get too much people traffic?

“That’s the beauty of it, you have to want to get there,” Foster said, noting that one would have to swim, paddle or rock-climb to get to the island.  “I don’t think it would ever get over-visited.”

 NOTE: This article was reprinted from the RTD.