Our organization is entirely driven by our volunteers and we are immensely thankful for all their efforts. Their work is at the heart of all these accomplishments. We also wish to thank our many partners who have supported these efforts including the Chesapeake Departments of Parks, Recreation & Tourism, Public Works, and Public Utilities, the Elizabeth River Project (ERP), the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, the Chesapeake Master Gardeners, the Tidewater Master Naturalists, the Eastern Virginia Mountain Bike Association and others.
Key accomplishments for 2016 include:
162 Volunteers contribute more than 1250 hours to Friends of Indian River activities
Volunteers came out in force again this year, topping our previous year volunteer hour count by more than 50%. Our biggest volunteer efforts included two Clean the Bay Day sites, participation in the International Coastal Cleanup, and performing quarterly road side cleanups along Indian River Road. At Indian River Park, volunteers kept up the native plant garden and trailhead entrance area, performed trail maintenance, and put in extensive efforts to control invasive species, particularly English Ivy and Japanese Stilt Grass. Our volunteers also worked to keep the gardens and trees at the Indian River-Oaklette Bridge looking beautiful. And hundreds of hours of behind the scenes work was done to coordinate with the City, the Elizabeth River Project, and other partners, perform outreach, and keep the organization up and running.
Indian River Park BioBlitz
On April 16th, the Friends of Indian River hosted the first ever BioBlitz at Indian River Park, an event both educate the public about the natural features of this urban wilderness and to identify as many species of plants and animals as possible. Several groups worked together to make the BioBlitz a success, including the Chesapeake Parks, Recreation & Tourism (PR&T), the Tidewater Master Naturalists, the Chesapeake Master Gardeners, Boy Scout Troop 42, and the Tidewater Master Naturalists. Wildlife experts were recruited from the Cape Henry Audubon Society, Old Dominion University, the Virginia Department of Forestry, the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries, Chesapeake PR&T, and the Virginia Cooperative Extension Office to provide guided hikes. Altogether, 84 people participated in the day’s activities including 22 youths. Over 9 hours and 6 guided hikes, 116 species were reported including squirrels, salamanders, the Eastern Kingsnake, 21 species of birds, 24 species of insects, spiders, and other “bugs”, 61 species of plants, and 7 invasive species. These discoveries brought the total species count for the park to over 300. The full BioBlitz report can be found at https://drive.google.com/file/d/0B1C5n48ReRbkS1VwLUNjRnJjbDA/view.
Canoe/Kayak Launch Site
The tidal Indian River has nearly 9 miles of shoreline and 60 acres of marsh with a diverse cross-section of wildlife. However, unless you live along the water, there is no practical public access to the river and certainly no public canoe/kayak access. The Eastern Branch Restoration Strategy identified this lack of public access as a key obstacle in getting citizens to care about the health of the river. The Friends of Indian River, working with the Elizabeth River Project, the Norfolk Highlands Civic League and the Chesapeake Parks, Recreation and Tourism identified a potential public access site. And this summer, with backing from these groups, the City won an $182,500 Virginia Land Conservation Foundation Grant, with City matching funds, to acquire the site. We expect the purchase to be completed in 2017 and progress to open the site to follow quickly.
This year, the Friends expanded our efforts to Plymouth Community Park on the west side of the river. This small 4 acre park has long been overlooked and the Friends have Adopted the Park to help make it a useful asset to the community. We held a Clean the Bay Day event at the park in June and followed up by holding our International Coastal Cleanup there in September. Between the two events, volunteers removed over 1250 lbs. of trash that had accumulated over decades of neglect. The City is stepping up too and is installing picnic tables, new signage, and is considering future plans for a playground, pathways, and a river overlook.
Oyster Reefs along the Indian River
Eastern Branch Trail
Eastern Branch Environmental Restoration Strategy
Many of the above actions are parts of the larger Eastern Branch Environmental Restoration Strategy developed by Elizabeth River Project along with multiple regional partners including the Friends of Indian River. This year the Elizabeth River Project was awarded a $750,000 grant to further advance the effort. The Friends of Indian River will continue to participate in the planning and execution of the plan to improve the health of the Indian River and its surrounding communities.
Indian River Shopping Center/Aqua Virginia
The Friends continue to follow and provide input on the negotiations between the City and Aqua Virginia regarding the water service to the Indian River Shopping Center and the neighboring residential area. At the end of year, there is a proposal establish cross-connections between the City and the Aqua water systems to allow the City to provide backup water supply to the system in the case of emergencies. This would stabilize the system in the event of power outages and enable Aqua Virginia to install fire hydrants in the community in phases. The City would also be allowed to provide a direct connection to the Shopping Center for fire suppression water supply, removing the key barrier to redevelopment. But Aqua Virginia is not interested in selling their system and would remain the primary water provider to the community. For a more thorough description of the proposal, see http://www.friendsofindianriver.org/2016/12/aqua-virginia-update.html. Additional public hearings are expected early next year.
Education Field Trip
The Friends sponsored an education field trip to New Earth Farms in Pungo, Virginia Beach to learn about the how and, perhaps more importantly, the why of sustainable farming. The 21 acre farm is a classroom and laboratory working to protect the living soil, eliminate chemical use, maintain seed diversity, and raise farm animals in a way that is healthy for the animals and the environment.
The Friends continued in our efforts to bring quality speakers to our monthly meetings. Speakers this year included
- Dean Bohon on Flowers of Hampton Roads
- Farmer John Wilson of New Earth Farms
- Master Gardener Lorraine Schreiber on Decorative Vegetable Gardening
- Kirsten Halverson of Buy Fresh, Buy Local
- Rogard Ross on Saving Chesapeake Bay, It's For the Birds
- Jim Cahoon on Living Shorelines and Rain Gardens
- Yohn Sutton of FrogWatch
- Vice-Mayor Rick West
Other Areas of Interest
- The City Council denied the application to build the 240 unit Eastwyck Crossing Apartments on a 17 acre wooded lot adjacent to Indian River Park. The Friends had raised concerns that additional environmental mitigation was needed on the site and about the impact to the already overcrowded schools of our area. But do note that the developer does have pre-existing approval to build 208 condos on the site and their future plans are TBD.
- The Friends continued to engage local civic leagues including the Norfolk Highland Civic League, the Georgetown Civic League, the Campostella Square/Plymouth Park Civic League, and the Ipswich Townvilla Association.
- The Friends are renewing their interaction with the Eastern Virginia Mountain Bike Association to develop a joint trail maintenance plan for Indian River Park
- The Friends continue to track progress on the renovation of the old community center at the Providence Playground which will house the new Rokeby Senior Center. Opening is now planned for early 2017.
You can now also make a donation and become a supporting member of the Friends of Indian River online at http://www.friendsofindianriver.org/p/membership.html
And please remember to join us for our Annual Meeting on Thursday, January 19, 7 pm at Oaklette United Methodist Church to discuss plans for 2017.
Friends of Indian River
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