On March 16, 2022, a collaboration between Capital Region Land Conservancy (CRLC), James River Association (JRA), and The Conservation Fund completed the transfer and protection of 0.85 acres of property on Dock Street. The transaction is a major step in the joint effort to achieve multiple conservation objectives: delivering environmental education, protecting the “View that Named Richmond” from Libby Hill Park, opening public access to the riverfront and allowing the Virginia Capital Trail to be rerouted off of a busy road.
The 0.85-acre property was purchased from The Conservation Fund, which still owns the remainder of the 5.2-acre vacant property on Dock Street between Great Shiplock Park and Intermediate Terminal Warehouse No. 3. In August of 2021, The Conservation Fund assumed a contract on the property from CRLC. Once the remaining funding of $1.5 million is secured to repay The Conservation Fund for the purchase, the rest of the property will transfer to the City of Richmond to become part of the James River Park System.
JRA to Build New River Center and Secure $2 Million Grant
Since 1976, JRA has served as a voice for the river and over the past two decades developed an environmental education program. JRA currently educates over 12,000 students annually up and down the James River with on-the-river lessons utilizing canoes, kayaks, a 40-foot pontoon boat, a historic batteau, as well as the James River Ecology School on Presquile National Wildlife Refuge.
“Our goal is to make sure that every child growing up in what Outside magazine named ‘The Best Rivertown Ever’ is introduced to the James River and is able to enjoy a lifetime of the benefits it provides,” said Bill Street, President and CEO of JRA. “We searched for over five years for a suitable location for an education center in Richmond and are thrilled to finally have this wonderful site secured.”
The Dock Street site provides quick and easy access to a variety of river environments, an essential element to meet the time and transportation limitations for school field trips. Most importantly, with its existing dock, the site provides immediate access to the tidal portion of Richmond’s James River, allowing JRA to utilize one of its education boats to take students and teachers on the river. The tidal waters also provide easy paddling conditions for a novice to canoe or kayak. Close access to the natural woods on Chapel Island provides an extraordinary opportunity to teach students about forests in the heart of an urban area, and Trigg Cove gives students the chance to get their feet wet, hands dirty and experience river life firsthand within a short distance of their community.
The river center in Richmond is one of three river centers that JRA is working to build as part of its “James Changer Campaign,” a $25-million initiative to strengthen and expand JRA’s programs protecting the James River and connecting people to it. To help establish river centers in the Lynchburg, Richmond and Williamsburg regions, JRA received a $2 million commitment from The Robert G. Cabell and Maude Morgan Cabell Foundation.
“We are honored and thrilled to receive such a tremendous gift from The Cabell Foundation,” said Street. “We are grateful for their confidence and enthusiasm for our work and are excited that $1 million of their commitment is a challenge grant for us to match with additional gifts from the community.”
JRA, 3North, and Kaleidoscope Collaborative launched a community engagement process last year to gather input from community members and stakeholders to incorporate feedback as to how the James River Center can best serve students, residents, and visitors. Richmond-based 3North has produced renderings of each river center that are viewable on jameschanger.org, where community members can learn more and make online donations to the James Changer Campaign.
CRLC Records Conservation Easement to Ensure Public Access and James River Views
Concurrent with the real estate transaction, CRLC recorded a conservation easement on the 0.85 acres purchased by JRA that will ensure that public riverfront access on the property will be maintained and the scenic views of the river from Libby Hill Park will not be impaired while JRA brings their environmental education center to life.
The scenic view from Libby Hill Park provides a glimpse back in time, connecting Richmonders to the history of this place and why we call the banks of the James River home. This conservation easement outlines specific limits to the height of any potential buildings and signs. In order to protect the nighttime view as well as the safe flight of bats and migratory birds over the James River, lighting on the property will be required to comply with dark sky standards like those of the International Dark Sky Association.
CRLC and JRA share the goal of protecting the health of the James River. Impervious surfaces, including buildings, paved parking areas, roads, and trails, create runoff and prevent rainwater from slowly filtering into the soil. This easement sets limitations to the total area of impervious surface on the property, allowing for a higher percentage of rainwater infiltration. With a requirement that only plants native to Virginia may be installed on the property, plantings will likely boost flood resilience and provide habitat and food for river-loving animals.
The riverfront land deal showcases the opportunities that can be realized when partners come together through shared goals and vision. Through the acquisition of this parcel, The Conservation Fund, CRLC, and JRA will bring a greater appreciation to the James River and broader connection to the community by protecting historic riverside land, enabling safer passage of cyclists along the iconic Virginia Capital Trail, increasing public river access, and allowing for greater and more interactive environmental education to students both in Richmond, and across the watershed.
ABOUT THE JAMES RIVER ASSOCIATION: The James River Association is a member-supported nonprofit organization founded in 1976 to serve as a guardian and voice for the James River. Throughout the James River’s 10,000 square mile watershed, the James River Association works toward its vision of a fully healthy James River supporting thriving communities. The James River Association believes that “when you change the James, the James changes you”. With offices in Lynchburg, Richmond, Williamsburg, and Scottsville, the James River Association is committed to protecting the James River and connecting people to it. www.thejamesriver.org
ABOUT CAPITAL REGION LAND CONSERVANCY: Capital Region Land Conservancy (CRLC) is dedicated to the conservation and protection of the natural and historic land and water resources of Virginia’s Capital Region for the benefit of current and future generations. As a nationally accredited land trust, CRLC is the only organization devoted specifically to conservation within the Counties of Charles City, Chesterfield, Goochland, Hanover, Henrico, New Kent, and Powhatan as well as the Town of Ashland and City of Richmond. Since being incorporated in 2005, CRLC has conserved more than 12,000 acres of land in this special region. www.capitalregionland.org
ABOUT THE CONSERVATION FUND: At The Conservation Fund, we make conservation work for America. By creating solutions that make environmental and economic sense, we are redefining conservation to demonstrate its essential role in our future prosperity. Top-ranked for efficiency and effectiveness, we have worked in all 50 states since 1985 to protect more than 8.5 million acres of land, including nearly 79,000 acres of beloved natural land in Virginia. www.conservationfund.org