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History

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.

The creek had been home to severe contamination with multiple “Superfund” or worst-of-the-worst sites identified by the US EPA. The park became part of a dramatic turnaround that won both the US Navy and the Elizabeth River Project a White House award. But 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 FUNDS, ADDING AMENITIES

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 $4.5 million). Elizabeth River Project next constructed two miles of trails along with “green” parking and access roads (Phase 1, completed 2012).  

For Phase 2, City of Portsmouth in partnership with Elizabeth River Project and matching funds from VA Department of Conservation and Recreation constructed  the handicap accessible kayak launch and the Dominion Wetlands Learning Lab along with expanded parking (2013-16).

Scottish environmental artist Rob Mulholland installed his assemblage of polished sculptures at the park in fall 2017, “One Flock,” thanks to an Our Town grant to Elizabeth River Project from the National Endowment for the Arts. In 2018, Elizabeth River Project introduces the Fred W. Beazley River Academy with an enclosed classroom for 30, thanks to Beazley Foundation and many more. TowneBank is the lead sponsor of a River Playground to be completed in summer 2018, completing Phase 2 amenities.

Thank you to an enormous list of donors who have made this work possible. As well, many hundreds of volunteers and school children 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 15,000 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 2014. A NOAA Environmental Literacy Grant launched student field trips on sea level rise resiliency in 2016-19 with help from Hampton Roads Community Foundation, the Jane Batten Education Fund at the foundation and many others. Bank of America as well as PNC Bank are among generous supporters of a birding program at the park for pre-schoolers.

ONGOING IMPROVEMENTS

Revitalization of Paradise Creek Nature Park is ongoing – and we have lots of roles for YOU!  Elizabeth River volunteers and donors are vital to ongoing keep the park strong and its education efforts growing.

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 at info@elizabethriver.org or (757) 399-7487.