Open Source host Will Snyder had James River Park System manager Ralph White on his show Friday. White announced last week that he’s retiring at the end of 2012. They discussed the challenges facing the park system, his fights with City Hall and his resolutions for his last year on the job.
“I love the river, love the park,” he said, acknowledging that “in the beginning, everyone didn’t love it,” White said, referring to late 1970s and early 1980s. “The river was considered dirty and the land was considered unsafe.”
“It think that the strength of the park is…citizen participation,” he said. “It is better that lots of people donate small amounts of money and time and care and letters and advice than it is that one or two well-heeled persons plays a major role. It think its better that it reflects our demographic writ large — rather than just a few wealthy people. What makes the park special is how much it reaches out to old, young, black, white, male, female, different religions…”
On the health of the James in the James River Park, White said he had spoken with the Bill Street of the James River Association and was a big admirer of that organizations work. “I’m responsible for a very small section of the James — seven miles in the fall line,” he said. “In our area of the city, its different. We’re doing a pretty good job of maintaining it, cleaning it, controlling pollution. I would give us a solid B, B plus. We’re the only capital city in the lower 48 that has, not only one but two, eagles nests within the corporate limits, and actually one of them is inside the park property. We have 40 nests of great blue herons. All indicators that water quality is up.”
When asked what is the biggest threat to the James River Park, White said “We get an awful lot of use, and if there is one thing that could kill us, its too much visitation. There is a carrying capacity and we need to know what that is. There are only so many people that you can handle and have a natural area. So being aware of this, I think, is our biggest concern.
“That having been said, different parts of the park can handle even more use — some we are at max, say Belle Isle. A place that periodically can be at max is Pony Pasture. Then we’ve got new areas of parkland that don’t get such heavy use, North Bank, Pump House, Huguenot Flatwater — there’s a place that’s a real gem. So, being loved to death is our biggest concern.”
“I like all the things that are going on now, which are a result of so much citizen input — so more of the same is what I would ask for,” White said in response to a question about how he’d like the parks to be run and cared for after he retires. “This is an urban area, but it has wilderness qualities and it is managed for adventure recreation and aesthetic appreciation. Where else can you challenge yourself in Class IV, Class V rapids? We have some of the finest mountain biking trails in any city in the United States. We allow rock climbing and trail running.”
What are your thoughts on the Riverfront development plan? “In the area that comprises the park — we should not have any kind of tall development. The housing that is along the river itself should be encouraged to be painted in natural tones — earth tones of brown and grey, dark green, with trees so that you can’t see the houses. If we do that, we can double or triple the number of houses in the beauty area. If you can’t see them, they are literally out of site and out of mind.”
Check the podcast, which also includes Ken Cuccinelli’s announcement and Richmond real estate gossip.