BIRTH OF AN URBAN OASIS
The Elizabeth River Project and the City of Portsmouth opened Paradise Creek Nature Park to the public in December 2012, as Portsmouth’s third largest public park and Elizabeth River Project’s signature outdoor field station for exploring first-hand what you can do to restore an urban river to health. The park is a companion education site to Elizabeth River Project’s award-winning Learning Barge.
The 40-acre site for the park was selected on Paradise Creek, a tributary to the Southern Branch of the Elizabeth River, as part of a larger project to restore the entire creek tributary as a microcosm of the Elizabeth River. Starting in 2001, Elizabeth River Project and community partners conducted more than 20 projects to improve Paradise Creek, a 2-mile finger of water that mirrors the larger river with Navy facilities and industry on one side and homes on the other.
A stakeholder planning team said the long-term health of the creek would depend on public access to appreciate it…and the City of Portsmouth had hoped for a park in that section of Portsmouth for 40 years!
RAISING THE FUNDS
Elizabeth River Project raised $1.4 million to buy the waterfront property in 2008 and began improvements with many donors and partners (total raised so far, more than $4 million!). Two miles of trails were constructed along with “green” parking, access roads, a kayak launch and the Dominion Wetlands Learning Lab. Many hundreds of volunteers have worked thousands of hours to remove invasive vines and other invasive species and add picnic shelters, benches and birdhouses (special thanks, Lowe’s Heroes and Young Life!) as well as more than 10,000 native trees, shrubs and flowers.
RESTORING THE WETLANDS
The Port of Virginia, meanwhile, in 2012 created the park’s signature wetland – at 11 acres, the largest restored wetland in the area that’s open to the public with a launch for public paddles. The port authority removed 300,000 cubic yards of dredge spoils that had filled in a former branch of the creek to restore healthy tidal wetlands for wildlife and water quality.
ADDING RIVER EDUCATION
To maximize the park’s unique education potential, the Elizabeth River Project hired a full-time Urban Park Ranger and began an extensive slate of public and student education programs in 2013-14. Ranger Sarah Sumoski holds a masters degree from Virginia Institute of Marine Science and was formerly an Urban Park Ranger in NYC! She helps present student field trips and education programs for the public throughout the year.
Improvement of the park is ongoing – and we have lots of roles for YOU! The Fred W. Beazley River Academy and a maritime playground are among plans for 2016-17, with your help. To maximize the education value of the park, Elizabeth River Volunteers too are vital to ongoing maintenance of the park with volunteer activities available many weekends.
YOU CAN HELP!
Find your role with our education and volunteer programs, and/or consider a donation to park needs. Please contact Elizabeth River Project’s Sarah Sumoski, firstname.lastname@example.org, 399-7487.