Posts Tagged ‘volunteer’

Taking ownership of Pony Pasture

Crowds at Pony Pasture Rapids Park in Richmond, Va.Pony Pasture Rapids Park is an urban paradise for many. A cheap way to make the best of one’s day for those that can’t afford a trip to the beach or don’t have the time to leave the city for a vacation.

The exposed granite boulders are a big draw for Richmond’s rock hoppers and sunbathers. Family gatherings are as popular as inner tubing, kayaking, swimming, fishing and partying.

But there are many people who take the pristine park conditions for granted. It takes a lot of work to keep human interference from tarnishing Pony Pasture’s natural beauty.  Between the James River Park System’s staff and the many volunteers and dedicated park-goers, the work gets done.

I am one of those proud people and Pony Pasture Rapids Park is now my park. Actually, many people own the park, and taking ownership is encouraged. After all my years of using the park, I’m now volunteering my time to maintain it and defend it from those that abuse it.

Aluminum cans left at Pony Pasture Rapids Park in Richmond, Va.I spent five hours clearing trash and helping people park cars at the west Richmond park on the hottest day of the summer. The official high that day was 105 degrees, beating the record of 99 for July 25. Didn’t matter, the park was packed.

I can claim four garbage bags worth of trash and recycling. I had help, as people who saw me coming with my trash bag would volunteer things they had collected from the river. It was good to have children helping a little, especially with aluminum cans.

Other than all the of senseless disposal of diapers all over the place, the worst part of clearing trash was a six-pack of glass bottles smashed on the rocks.  That malicious act took the longest to clean. I also found an enclave of more than 80 cans, bottles, boxes and food containers that was about as bad as it gets. The worst part was that a trash can was only 15 feet away. Trash in, trash out people.

Cigarette butts left at Pony Pasture Rapids Park in Richmond, Va.I think the cigarette butts were the most disappointing thing I found. Smokers know better and should be prepared to clean up after themselves.  I found 70-plus butts in one spot. The location suggested to me that it was obviously a good spot to see nature more than people-watch and I was disgusted by the lack of respect for the outdoors.

Parking is another issue at Pony Pasture. Between 1 p.m. and 6 p.m. on most summer weekends, the lot gets full and the park system workers and volunteers help manage the flow of cars into the park and keep everyone happy, according to park manager Ralph White.

Lines for the parking lot at Pony Pasture Rapids Park in Richmond, Va.By 3:30 p.m., the line to get into the lot was 20 cars deep and the wait was about 20 minutes. The lot — which is the largest in the park system — has 80 parking spaces but can be expanded with creative management to 110 spaces, White said.

“In the early ‘80s, riff-raff was so bad, people petitioned to have the park closed – twice,” White said. The Pagans and Hell’s Angels motorcycle gangs were a big part of the problem, he said — doing donuts with motorcycles in the gravel, smashing car windows, starting fights, drinking, doing drugs, womanizing, etc.

Pony Pasture was a rowdy and untamed place in those days and citizens weren’t happy, but the park was never permanently closed.

That was a long time ago. The park seems to be more popular now than ever and keeping peace and harmony for a diverse and multiculural crowd on a hot day is beneficial to everyone. 

“It’s a parks issue, not a police issue,” White said. Having the parks department and volunteers run the parking lots at peak hours frees police from having to dedicate several cars to patrolling the park.

White said Richmond police usually dedicates one unit to Pony Pasture on the weekends.

“There is no one breaking into cars or starting fights… and everyone gets along much better,” White said. Having attendants manage the parking lot at peak hours has helped ease tensions and people seem to respect the park more now.

While I was there, the police mostly concerned themselves with the cars in line for the parking lot that blocked westbound Riverside Drive. There were no calls for Emergency Medical Services, no rescues, no arrests that I saw.  Everyone was getting along, despite the close quarters, heat and huge crowds.

There were at least seven volunteers, including a two couples that lived near the park that like to ensure that their neighborhood is well-maintained. Another young man volunteered in the park all day doing whatever the parks department had for him. He is a regular and has taken ownership of his Pony Pasture.

I will continue to volunteer. The afternoon didn’t seem like work.  I was earning time to enjoy my James River. 

If you see something you don’t like about any city park, take action. Take ownership. Make the park yours.

Find out how to help the James River Park System or any of the volunteer groups: Friends of the James River, James River Outdoor Coalition and the City of Richmond’s Department of Parks, Recreation & Community Facilities.

Granite rocks are a big draw to Pony Pasture Rapids Park in Richmond, Va.

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My ‘Wish List’ for James River Park System

Pipeline Rapids walkway in downtown RichmondI love the James River and spend a lot of my free time kayaking, swimming, biking and hiking wherever I can in Richmond.

I am also dedicated to several  volunteer groups that help clean, maintain and restore some of the river’s best features.

Many people in those groups have a good sense of the best ways we can improve the way we utilize the river and its resources — and ways to make those visions a reality.

The James River Park System is now protected by a conservation easement that limits development, but that doesn’t stop us from developing new ways to enjoy ourselves when we visit.

Richmond.com published Part I of a Top 10 Wish List of the things I’d love to see happen in our treasured park system.

James River meeting could prove Legendary

Legend Brewing Company hosted a gathering of dedicated lovers of the James River Wednesday night that might prove to be start of something monumental.

The meeting took place on the famed deck of the Southside restaurant as the sun slowly set on a pleasant June evening in full view of one of the best views of the downtown Richmond skyline. Members of the James River Outdoor Coalition, Richmond Mid-Atlantic Off Roads Enthusiasts, Friends of the James River and Richmond Road Runners Club had a meeting/social with the Richmond Sports Backers, XTERRA, James River Park System and even Richmond Police.

It was a meeting of the minds of for the most dedicated and energetic stewards of the James River. Many great ideas were shared and the potential for many combined efforts and projects emerged.

I was particularly happy to see the faces of many people who I’ve contacted over the years and to get to know many new faces a little better. Ideas were bouncing all over the place — the crowd was full of thinkers and doers.  Ralph White and Nathan Burrell of the JRPS were there to pass thanks, good information, project updates…and to fire up the troops.

We were reminded that many of the great projects on the James River that have been put into action the past couple of decades have come from dedicated private citizens with the vision, ambition and manpower to make it happen. Want something done? Have your plan and get people organized to do it. Get the city involved when the people are assembled and working to help complete the job — don’t expect the city to do it for you.

In fact, I did get positive feedback on my paddling in the Haxall Canal idea — and this would be the group that would help execute the plan.

Fired up? Join one of these groups and make a difference. All in attendance agreed that meeting in a group setting with more cross-pollination of ideas and combined efforts on projects can help to make everyone’s river dreams come true.

Annual Earth Day Festival hero: Ralph White

Carly and Mitchell celebrate Richmond's Earth Day FestivalSunday’s 2010 Richmond Earth Day Festival was the fifth held in Manchester on the south banks of the James River at Floodwall Park and Plant Zero. It was a blast as always, and a great way to connect with like-minded people in a fun, positive atmosphere. 

I’m an earth day kind of guy. I attempt to be a steward of the land. I’m an avid recycler, got my backyard vegetable garden and compost pile, powerless blade lawn mower and my two new rain barrels.  I bike instead of drive whenever I can. Frequent farmer’s markets. Buy, eat, shop local — and when I do, I bring my own bags. Of the three Rs I’m probably more into reduce and reuse than recycle. I try to teach my kids to respect that way of living.

I also love the outdoors, with the James River being my main focus.  When I can, I try to do my part to keep it clean and teaching my kids the right way to go about living to be responsible and help make our world a little cleaner and greener.

I’m not going into all the details from the festival — you’re reading this, so you were probably there and saw it all. If you missed it, you can guess most of what you missed and check some of the photos below.

Ralph White at Richmond's Earth Day FestivalI do want to point out how much I enjoy Ralph White’s small annual portion of the festivities. He is the park manager for the James River Park System and put on a three-hour show for kids — planting shoreline vegetation, releasing fish, talking about the river.

As usual, Ralph was engaging for young and old, full of enthusiasm and information and showed tremendous patience and tolerance. With Ralph, it’s never the big things — all the little things. Everything is part of a bigger picture. Ecosystems depend on all things working in unison, etc. It’s fascinating to watch him work a crowd.

Ralph White at Richmond's Earth Day FestivalRalph White is a hero to the Earth Day crowd, only he lives it on an every day basis, year-round. He and his park system coworkers are stewards of our treasured riverfront, and I admire their work and dedication.

If you’ve ever found yourself wandering around a section of the JRPS and seen him, he’s picking up trash, snagging some recyclable material, teaching, organizing, networking.  You can’t conquer everything. Work hard, do all you can, come back and do it again the next day. It’s his passion, and we’re lucky to be able to enjoy the results.

I saw several other JRPS staffers on hand — including maintenance manager Peter Bruce and trails manager Nathan Burrell — and hopefully the festival was a chance for them to relax, socialize, celebrate — not work.  From this point on through the summer, they are likely working 12-16 hour days, 6-7 days a week and — knowing them — loving every second of it.

Ralph White at Richmond's Earth Day FestivalNext time you go to the river, take a small trash bag. Commit yourself to picking up whatever is convenient for you to carry out. Volunteer to clean or in some way care for this precious resource. Ralph and his folks never run out of projects that need attention. Make the park your park, and leave your mark. Spread the word and get your friends out to help and call it a party. Every time I’ve volunteered for a clean up or trail building day it has been an overwhelmingly satisfying and positive time — my own little festival.

Find what fits you and make every day your own Earth Day.

Richmond MORE and city open Forest Hill Park trails

New bridge at Forest Hill Park bike trailAfter nearly six months and 800 man hours, one of the key elements to the revitalization of Richmond’s Forest Hill Park is now complete with the re-opening of the biking and hiking trail.

Jimmy McMillan hits the trails at Forest Hill ParkThe trails were closed to allow the reworking of portions of the original trail to help prevent erosion and to make it easier to maintain, said Nathan Burrell, Trail Builder for the City of Richmond.

“That’s why we build them that way — to cut down on the maintenance and let us work on other projects and continue to expand,” he said.

The restored trail is intended for use by everyone, not just the mountain biking community, he said. The single-track trail winds it’s 3.2 miles around the perimeter of the wooded areas of Forest Hill Park and highlights many of the park’s existing features.

Several new techniques were put to use and the trail looks fantastic.

The restoration of Forest Hill Park’s lake was completed under budget and a month early and the park will soon put in place a footbridge over Reedy Creek at the above the lake in memory of the Bryan Harvey family. The lake has become a marsh after being filled by silt over many years of neglect.

“We’ve turned the corner on perception,” said J.R. Pope, the city’s director of Parks and Recreation Department. “People are taking ownership of the parks.”

The Patio at Forest Hill Park in Richmond, VirginiaThe trail restoration was a combined effort from the City of Richmond Parks and Recreation Department, Richmond Mid-Atlantic Off Road Enthusiasts, and many other volunteer groups.

RA-MORE is an all volunteer organization formed in 2005, is dedicated to improving the state of mountain biking in the Greater Richmond Virginia area.

The Forest Hill Park trail project cost $15,000 to complete — $5,000 from the city and $10,000 in donations, mostly from RA-MORE.

One example of the cost is the new wooden multi-use bridge over a brook in the middle of the park.

New bridge at Forest Hill Park bike trail“The bridge is incredible,” Pope said. The bridge has a curve in the middle as it crosses the ravine and a staircase — a fine example of carpentry.

Several overheard comments from riders as they approached bridge for the first time were nothing but complimentary.

Greg Rollins, president of RA-MORE, congratulated the 25 members that attended an opening day picnic before the group hit the trail to celebrate its completion.

“J.R. saw that the mountain bikers wanted to be a part of the parks,” Rollins said. “Guys that come out and put 8 hours in each Saturday.”

Burrell was the project leader and was especially proud that the trail was completed in time for the Urban Assault mountain bike race, which is part of Dominion Riverrock, scheduled for May 14-15.

J.R. Pope addresses members of RA-MORE at Forest Hill Park“We were able to bring something together that only a small amount of people could use….to something that walkers, hikers, bikers, everyone could use,” he said. “And as a result, everybody is happy!”

Burrell added that the next trail building project is in the wooded hillsides Dogwood Dell, below The Carillon and across the road from Pumphouse Park. 

Pope agreed and said that effort would be the next logical step in establishing the Pumphouse as the new visitor’s center for the James River Park System.

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

Shockoe & Hollywood not only neglected cemeteries in Richmond

Katherine Calos of the Richmond Times-Dispatch wrote an excellent story on the volunteer “Friends of” groups that have been organized to help maintain and restore Richmond’s famous Hollywood Cemetery in Oregon Hill and the lesser-celebrated Shockoe Hill Cemetery in Jackson Ward.

The cemeteries, both on the National Register of Historic Places, are the burial grounds for some of Virginia’s most prominent people: U.S. presidents, Supreme Court justices, governors and mayors.

Now the cemeteries are benefiting from two volunteer organizations — Friends of Hollywood Cemetery and Friends of Shockoe Hill Cemetery — that formed recently to bring new attention to the riches and the needs of each place.

Burial plot at Shockoe Hill Cemetery for John Marshall, former chief justice of the United States

It’s good to see something positive written about our historic cemeteries, rather than reports of vandalism, robbery or storm damage.

Hollywood is famous for many reasons and is a tourist attraction for the city.  Shockoe Hill does not have that advantage. A few years ago when I worked for the Times-Dispatch and the Discover Richmond website, I realized that I had never been to any of Richmond’s “other” historic cemeteries. In 2007, I made it my goal to visit as many as I could.

I made a stop on the way to work on morning at Shockoe Hill [see slideshow] — It reminded me of Hollywood for the artistry of the headstones and the fact that it has several famous figures in Richmond’s history — including the Civil War — but the maintainance wasn’t quite what you’d expect at Hollywood.

Hebrew Cemetery in Jackson Ward

Hebrew Cemetery in Jackson Ward

Across Hospital Street, Hebrew Cemetery [see slideshow] is much smaller, so the plots and stones are packed in tight. There is no lack of ornamentation or interesting ironwork in this resting place. You can find so many great family names in our city’s history there as well. My visit there was brief, but the artistic images of that day are still etched in my mind.

A disappointment, I visited the Jewish Cemetery [see slideshow] in Shockoe Bottom expecting to see many stones. Almost all of the markers were moved long ago, and only the large gate is worth seeing.

Fort Harrison National Cemetery in Varina

Of course, there are many Civil War burial grounds that are part of the Richmond National Battlefield Park sites.  My favorite is at Cold Harbor National Cemetery, but I have also visited Glendale, Fort Harrison, Richmond and even City Point in Hopewell.  

The cemeteries are all somewhat similar and the upkeep for these resting places has much more financial backing, but I was told by a groundskeeper at Glendale that the number of visitors to these hallowed grounds are diminishing. I expect that will change as we approach the Sesquicentennial — the 150th Anniversary of the American Civil War (2011-2015).

The cemetery at Blandford Church [see slideshow] is Petersburg’s version of Hollywood Cemetery and is a treasure worth visiting — especially for the Tiffany glass windows inside the church [see slideshow].

Since those visits to most of the cemeteries, I haven’t made many returns (other than Hollywood). The best thing I found about going the cemeteries — besides the artistic beauty I find in the stone markers contrasting with sun and the natural surroundings — is that I have a deeper appreciation for our history and the people who made it. 

When I pass over the Shockoe Valley bridge on Interstate 64 headed toward Richmond, the Hebrew Cemetery is in full view. The tall brick walls surrounding Shockoe Hill Cemetery can also be seen from the highway. Sitting on the rocks at Belle Isle or crossing the Robert E. Lee Bridge downtown, you can see the headstones and the majestic hillside at Hollywood Cemetery. 

There are also other needy and forgotten cemeteries like Oakwood and Evergreen — which the RTD’s Michael Paul Williams has covered extensively. Oakwood was in the news recently for a new iron fence added to a memorial and Evergreen has had several weekend cleanups. 

I plan to volunteer with one of these friends groups some weekend to help clean these cemeteries. Respect these places. Honor the memories of the heroes of Richmond’s past.