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Q&A with Richmond’s new Trails Manager

I interviewed Mike Burton, the city’s new trails manager, for my Outdoors column in today’s Times-Dispatch. It was big deal five years ago when the city made a commitment to trails by hiring Nathan Burrell as its first trails manager. And it’s no less a deal now, after Burrell has moved on to become superintendent of the James River Park system, that they’ve filled the position. There were some in the outdoor community — count me among them —  who worried that in these budget-strained times, the position would be eliminated or go unfilled for many months.

Credit: Phil Riggan

Credit: Phil Riggan

Check out what Burton has to say about trail building and maintenance and Richmond’s future as a trail Mecca.

For those of you who know the trails well, one thing I didn’t have the space to add in my column was Burton describing which sections of Forest Hill Park, which has taken a beating from all the summer rain, he hopes to tackle first this fall. The top two priorities, he said, are: 1) The old dirt road that runs from just downstream of the base of the waterfall to up and out of the park at 32nd Street. And 2) The area just below the cobblestone walkway that comes down from 34th Street. “They’re really rutted out, really bad erosion problems right now, and we’re going to reroute both of them.”

 

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Interview with new JRPS manager

Credit: storefrontrichmond.org

Credit: storefrontrichmond.org

I interviewed Nathan Burrell, the new manager of the James River Park System, for my column in today’s T-D. We talked about following Ralph White in what has become a very high-profile job, the challenges the park faces and his vision for its future. All that is in the column, but there was plenty more we talked about that there wasn’t room for. Here are a few highlights.

On replacing the environmental educator position lost when Lorne Field left three years ago:

NB: That is a priority of mine as well. Not only having a programmatic person here at the park but having someone who can coordinate with our schools and after-school programs and truly be able to get, especially our inner city youth, down into the park. Most of the park users are from the counties. It’s not even people who pay for the park that are here using it. We need to figure ways to encourage and get folks here from the city to the park to enjoy it because it’s their park.

It’s vital. There’s only so much that me as parks superintendent would be able to do working with schools and getting school groups out there running programs. That’s a full-time job…especially being able to do that year-round because as you know the park is very different at different times of year. There’s diff activities you can do and diff programs you’d do throughout the year. You’ve got to have somebody here focused on that.

On the role of volunteers in the park:

NB: This park has been truly built and maintained by citizens, volunteers. Volunteers are truly the way this park thrives. In my past role as trails manager, without volunteers, we couldn’t have done the things we did. They are the cornerstone to this park. That aspect of the JRP will never change as far as I’m concerned — volunteers’ roles, how volunteers function in the park.

Ultimately, for many people, knowing that they had a hand in making it what it is…because many of the volunteers are users, they come back to the park time and time again. They can always point and say, ‘We did that.’ And also volunteers really become our eyes and ears. The volunteer that was picking up trash the week before comes back and sees a kid throwing trash on the ground, they’re the first ones to say, ‘What are you doing? Pick up that trash.’ That’s what we need.

On the park system’s needs, short- and long-term:

NB: Many are areas of just deferred maintenance. Most of them are just because we traditionally haven’t had the funding. But a lot of that is changing. We have funding. We have staffing. We can do a lot of this deferred maintenance. 22 Street is a case in point. The 22nd street tower should not look like that. You have an eroded hillside that leads you down to a tower where the drains are clogged because of all the erosion. Appearancewise, it’s not attractive, and its not on par with the rest of the JRPS. Those are simple, small things. Some of the bigger initiatives — think about the Pump House, get that up and running.

A lot of them are smaller issues, connectivity issues. Northbank Park, you need to be able to get down to the tower easily. You need a couple sets of steps to do that. Pump House, the isolation of it lends itself to a lot of the issues that we currently see there. The break-ins and some of the other activities that take place there. A lot of those issues are solved with connectivity. Bring the positive users in, run the negative users out. Once we’ve changed the population that’s using the Pump House then we can start looking at the actual structure itself. Then we can start thinking about programming so it can start bringing in a little money for itself and the park.

A lot of them are smaller issues, connectivity issues. Northbank Park, you need to be able to get down to the tower easily. You need a couple sets of steps to do that. Pump House, the isolation of it lends itself to a lot of the issues that we currently see there. The break-ins and some of the other activities that take place there. A lot of those issues are solved with connectivity. Bring the positive users in, run the negative users out. Once we’ve changed the population that’s using the Pump House then we can start looking at the actual structure itself. Then we can start thinking about programming so it can start bringing in a little money for itself and the park.

On Ralph White’s future role with the park:

NB: I want to work with Ralph to create an endowment, money for the Pump House to develop it into what we think it should be or what the community would like to see. Who else can do that in this city? Ralph White can. It’s really giving Ralph direction. For so long the park has been his purpose. Raising funds for the park to keep the park moving forward and maintained properly.”

 

 

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