RICHMOND, VA – In 1965, Somers M. Wilton and his wife Joan purchased approximately 36 acres from Horace R. W. Vial, who had inherited the land from his parents. The property, located north of Greer Avenue along Vial Road near Warwick Road, was at the time part of Chesterfield County. It would later be part of the area annexed by the City of Richmond in 1970, its fate tied to a city that would be forced to address racial, social, economic, and environmental inequalities.
After extensive road improvements were completed along Warwick Road in 1996, the City of Richmond identified the property as a Housing Opportunity Area appropriate for higher density residential development. However, much of the property was also shown as a resource management area that included a resource protection area of forested/shrub wetlands along Grindall Creek. Given the presence of these natural resources, the Chesapeake Bay Program required environmental protection standards that made development of the property challenging and costly.
Thanks to the generosity of Joan and the surviving children of Somers Wilton, however, the threat to these natural resources has recently been further diminished. This month, the Wilton Family gifted 13 wooded acres of the property along Grindall Creek to the Capital Region Land Conservancy (CRLC) to be protected in perpetuity. CRLC will work to transfer the property to the City of Richmond, under a conservation easement. This gift will provide the community with a potential public park with trails, a greenway with shared-use paths, a natural area for students at Thomas C. Boushall Middle School to learn about watersheds and the environment, and the opportunity to connect the Deerbourne and Walmsley neighborhoods to parks and open space where public spaces are currently unavailable.
Capital Region Land Conservancy and the City of Richmond will strive to engage the public and likely users of this new open space in a sincere public engagement process to solicit community input on the proposed future uses of the property. This will include listening to the residents’ needs. Approximately 1,145 people live within a 10-minute walk of the property, of whom 71% are African American. The area is also home to households (approximately 51%) that are low income or earn 80% of the median family income for the area. Community engagement will also include students and educators at Boushall Middle School, which is located less than a mile away.
As part of the Mayor’s Green Team, we at Capital Region Land Conservancy are proud to support the City’s efforts to bring parks and open space to all of its residents, particularly those in disadvantaged communities. CRLC’s acquisition of these 13 acres also addresses Environmental Justice by preserving natural green infrastructure that supports clean air and clean water as well as help combat urban heat islands and climate change. As an example, this property is surrounded by land which is extremely vulnerable to summertime high heat with afternoon temperatures exceeding the limits for optimal human health. Protecting this landscape and extensive flood plain along Grindall Creek promotes cooling temperatures and helps the city prepare for larger rainfall events as predicted in the 2030/2050 climate scenario.
Most importantly however, is that the City of Richmond will be able to add to its existing 2,300 acres of parkland – roughly 6% of its land use dedicated to public open space – and begin narrowing the equity gap for the more than 50,000 residents who currently do not have access to a park within a 10-minute walk from their home.
Mayor Levar Stoney commended the Wilton family on their gift saying, “The City of Richmond is committed to providing every resident with a 10-minute walk to a park yet we realize that we can’t accomplish this goal without the support of the private sector such as the Wilton family who is stepping up to provide a lasting investment into the community and the Capital Region Land Conservancy who is facilitating this donation.”
“My father was instrumental in developing the neighborhood in the 1970s. To be making this gift 50 years later is a honor for our family to further enhance the neighborhood and to support the City’s long-term strategic plans for parks and open space” said Barry Wilton.
“The Deerbourne and Walmsley neighborhoods will be thankful to know this part of the community will be preserved and opened for their use as a future park,” said Reva Trammell, 8th District Council Representative. “It will be among the first parks added to the 8th District where such investment has not occurred since this area was incorporated into the City of Richmond. Thank you to the Wilton family for their generosity.”
“Capital Region Land Conservancy is grateful to the Wilton family and honored to facilitate the first of many new park areas for residents in previously underserved communities. As we work to fill the gaps throughout the City, we look forward to discussing other gifts of land that meet the strategic goals for parks, open space, and green infrastructure,” said Parker Agelasto, CRLC’s Executive Director.