The Heart of Larus Park

July 31, 2017 · 7 minute read

Pink Ribbons – Trouble for Larus Park

You don’t need to tell an arborist what a pink ribbon wrapped around a tree means. Rarely does it mean “this is a special tree,” or “this is the tree we want to keep.” Usually, a pink ribbon wrapped around a tree means “This is the one that’s in our way,” or “this is the one that means nothing to us.” I know, because even though I most enjoy my profession when acting as tree caretaker, I have a roll of pink ribbon in my truck for the times when I am asked to be tree undertaker.

Larus Park trees with pink ribbons. Credit: Scott Turner

Thank Goodness for Retired Neighbors

And being busy with all that caretaking and undertaking, I had not yet noticed the pink ribbons around 356 trees at my favorite Richmond park. Enter my neighbor, a Richmond Tree Steward, who calls to me through the property line hedges sometimes when I get out of my truck. She knows I’m in over my head in business, always treading water, so she occasionally calls through the hedges to give me an interesting article or headline about trees. You know, to help me stop and smell the roses, or otherwise take better notice of the natural world as it passes me by. At more important times, she calls through the hedges to let me know the natural world I love so much is being threatened. Again.

The Natural Approach

This Richmond Tree Steward knew that a threatening pink perimeter had been established around 356 Trees at Larus Park in Bon Air. I could have driven there in 5 minutes from my home at the southern end of the Huguenot Bridge. The marked trees are just behind the fire station at Huguenot and Stony Point roads, near a trailhead for the park. But I somehow knew that if I was going to properly feel what the absence of these trees would mean to me, I would need to approach not from the side of progress and development, but from the deeper heart of “unimproved” nature.

The Best 5 Miles in South-West Richmond

Why don’t you throw on some running shoes, and I’ll take you along with me? We can get to the marked trees in 25 minutes by foot. First, we jog past the Huguenot Flatwater section of the James River Park System and under the newly renovated Huguenot Bridge. Most of the car traffic disappears to or from the east of the bridge ramps. Ample space now. Ample peace. The James River to our right is gently sifted through scattered speed bumps of exposed granite at low water, but will not truly begin to tumble over the fall line until the Pony Pasture Rapids a little further downstream.  If you want to walk, run, or cycle through a peaceful riverside sunset, this is the stretch of asphalt for you.

A small waterfall in Larus Park. Credit: Scott Turner

Then it’s a southern turn away from the river and a climb into densely forested hills. We run past the hideaway neighborhoods south of Cherokee Road, where quaint houses and rustic log cabins quietly ride the waves of the eastern face of the Appalachian Mountains. A small parking pullout, rarely used and unmarked, points us to an inviting break in the trees. We accept, exchange pavement for dirt, and soon meet the creek we will follow to its source. Tall trunks of oak, beech, and sweetgum hold up a lush green canopy above the trail. A wooden bridge over the creek, an opening along a powerline right-of-way, and then, abruptly, the Larus Creek disappears into a tunnel.

You’re a bit intimidated if it’s your first time tunneling your way beneath the heavy traffic of Chippenham Pkwy with water at your feet. But look at the green garden that awaits at the other side!  Good that you have a friend with you on your first time under.

Through the dark and into the light, then, and we are now officially in Larus Park, 106.5 acres of native woodland with Appalachian character owned by the city since 1978.

The Heart of Larus Park

The creek runs away from us as we climb a steep wooden staircase, but somewhere in the trees we hear the murmur again of water, rock and gravity playing peacefully together. Though the pace of our run, our “accomplishment,” may be diminished if we pause, and though “going” has become a much more natural state to us than “pausing,” we cannot resist the urge to pause here. In the heart of Larus Park now, at a boulder-strewn creek that would almost be more common or expected a couple hundred miles west of here.

We pause. We stoop. We listen.

Is it trying to tell us something? What does it want us to know?

There! What was that?

Listen. . .Pause  . . Listen.

But no, the quiet murmurings of water over rock remain deliciously incomprehensible. We rise from our pause, and from our stoop. We are no more the wiser, but all the more reverent, and refreshed for the trail.

The Source

Beech and oak give way to larger poplar, and then even larger poplar and sweetgum. The creek has separated into two branches and moves through flatter, soft earth covered in ferns. We are in a bowl just beneath the summit of Larus now. The creek has disappeared into the earth to some underground pond, and the trees here are among the tallest in Richmond. Maybe so massive because they are tapped into that pond. Reverently we tilt our heads back to admire their skyward reach. Their trunks seem too large to be living. To the left of the trail is the closest thing in Richmond to the Ewok Village of Star Wars. But to the right we see the pink. Lots of it.

Too close. Not around the largest trees, but around the ones that form a buffer between this land of green giants and Huguenot Rd.

Too close are the pink ribbons around trees that the original charter for the land claims are untouchable. Too close are the pink ribbons marking the potential location of a water tank to hold and sell water to Chesterfield County. A development deal, if Richmond’s Sierra Club is correct, that is so riddled with hasty and underdeveloped thought that we should not even have to add the argument of green space preservation to see the deal abandoned. But just in case…

Too close. That’s why we came this way. That’s why I brought you this way. When you are the city official making the deal, or the developer “improving” the land, or even the city-dwelling passerby on the street, this chipping away at the edges of our greenspaces must seem very reasonable and perhaps even practical. But when you are an urban forest dweller, and you look out from the shrinking sources of our earthly well-being, from their heart, and when you look out from places that refresh, restore, mystify and replenish, you see the pink ribbons for the threat they represent.

The Opportunity

As the founder of Riverside Outfitters and the owner of Truetimber Arborists, I’ve been telling everyone who will listen that I think Richmond is in the perfect place to showcase everything a 21st century American city can be – history, nature, culture, and even progress. But the places we all love the most are the places where these all are served up in healthy, balanced measure. In Richmond we have designated already what I think are the minimal requirements for greenspace preservation if we are going to lead America forward as a model of healthy urban development. We must be willing to allow places like Larus Park to remain “unimproved” so they can be enjoyed in their pristine beauty.

Are You Still with Me?

Two and half miles from home now, at the summit of our climb, and at the turnaround point. Just through those pink-marked trees is the modern world. The four busy lanes of Huguenot Road moving at 40-70 mph, and a gas station that keeps all those cars going. You can call someone to pick you up there if you’ve had enough nature.

Me? I’m gonna jog back. And maybe pause on the way.