Monday, December 18, 2017

2017 Year End Report

This year the Friends of Indian River celebrated our fifth anniversary.    The sixteen people who came to our first meeting in 2012 really didn’t know what we could accomplish together but, by most measures, we’ve had an extremely successful five years.   As we end 2017, we are being recognized by the Elizabeth River Project as a “River Star Business” at their highest achievement level!

Our volunteers put in many hours to improve the quality of life in the Indian River area.   121 Volunteers put in 1200 volunteer hours on a  wide variety of Friends of Indian River activities.    Volunteers came out time and again to support cleanups, gardening, and beautification efforts along Indian River Road, at Indian River Park and Plymouth Community Park.   The biggest one day turnout was Clean the Bay Day in June. This was the highpoint of our volunteer events.   But volunteers also performed hundreds of hours of work behind the scenes throughout the year, coordinating with the City, the Elizabeth River Project and other partners, performing outreach, and keeping the organization up and running.

Here is a roundup of 2017 accomplishments and events.


River Restoration and Cleanups


Since our founding, trash and litter cleanups have been a core mission for the Friends.   Our biggest event of the year is Clean the Bay Day and this year we sponsored cleanups at two sites: the floodplain below the Indian River Pony Little League field at Indian River Park and at Plymouth Community Park.   103 volunteers came out to support the cleanups and removed 3000 lbs. of trash. The spring and fall cleanups at Plymouth Community Park removed 600 lbs. of trash. 

Public Access

The big news was the City buying property along the Indian River for a future canoe/kayak launch.    Located off Indian River Road just east of the bridge, acquiring the site was a major goal of the Eastern Branch Environment Restoration Plan and the focus of several years of efforts by the Friends of Indian River and the Elizabeth River Project.   With our support, the city won a sizable grant to buy the property.  Now the City is working on the design of the vehicular entrance to the site and this winter they will be working with stakeholders on an overall site plan.

Parks and Trails

It was a wonderful year for our local parks.  Plymouth Park, another underused park, got renewed attention this year.   New signage, picnic tables, and an information kiosk were installed.   And the city got another grant to build a walkway around the south field in the park and a new pad for the picnic tables, plant shade trees along the new pathway, and install a new wooden guard rail along the roadside.   These improvements should all be completed in 2018.   The Friends continue to advocate for a playground and a walkway overlooking the river  for the future.

The City opened the renovated Rokeby Activity Center, focused on the “55 and Better” audience, at Providence Rd end of Indian River Park.  They also completed other fixes and improvements in the adjacent playground and basketball courts.  In the coming months we hope to set up a bulletin board in the center and there are plans to set up an herb garden in the spring

In the south section of Indian River Park, we continue our maintenance work around the trailhead area, including a Native Plant Garden, and miles of trails inside the park.   We are pushing back invasive plant outbreaks in the park by clearing areas of English Ivy and cutting back Japanese Stilt Grass along the trails.   Overall nearly 200 hours of volunteer effort was contributed in group events and individually toward park upkeep.

Walkable and Bikeable Community

The Indian River-Oaklette Bridge is the bridge that ties together the northern halfs of our community.  And if you spend some time there, you'll see quite a bit of foot and bicycle traffic - folks living on the west side going to and from the shops and business along our "Main Street" on the east side.   The gardens and trees that we've planted around the bridge hopefuly add visual appeal, traffic calming, and eventually shade for the people using this vital link.  These  gardens and trees continue to mature thanks to the dedicated work of the volunteers tending them.   We had several car incidents that damaged or destroyed some of the plum trees along the roadway, but some speedy nursing and some creative relocation restored the tree line, although these young trees still need a lot of TLC.    The three gardens all had excellent displays of color throughout the year.

Main Street Revitalization

Our quarterly and ad-hoc cleanups along Indian River Road and around the Indian River-Oaklette Bridge removed at least 800 lbs. of trash that won’t get washed into our river.  We also reached out to business to ask them to sweep up in front of their streets, especially prior to our quarterly cleanups.

Our Business Outreach Committee took multiple steps to develop stronger contacts with local businesses and we’ve gotten positive feedback from establishments including Wicker’s Crab Pot Seafood, Tudor’s Ace Hardware, Irwin’s Pharmacy, and Lulu’s Hot Dogs.   One effort that brought visibility to our group was placing matching planters at several locations long Indian River Road centered on the Sparrow Road intersection.

Green Infrastructure

Another key effort had several of our volunteers bring Oaklette United Methodist Church onboard as a River Star Business and its parsonage as a River Star Home.    Our volunteers then provided expertise and resources to help the church leverage funds from the Roger Weber Memorial Fund, the Elizabeth River Project Grants program, and the Virginia Conservation Assistance Program to install rain gardens and make other stormwater retention improvements around the church and parsonage to reduce runoff into the river.

Our volunteers also participated in the “Catch the King Tide” event, organizing a local team to measure the extent of the King Tide, the highest astronomical tide (not counting for wind and weather) of the year.  This citizen-science effort collected data to help meaure the impact of sea level rise.


Civic Engagement and Outreach

We held several outreach events at Indian River Park including a First Day Hike on New Year’s Day, an Earth Day event in conjunction with Adopt-A-Park, and a fall hike.   For the Great Backyard Bird
Count in February we went bird watching around Woodland Lake between the Indian River Community Center and the High School.   In the fall we held our first ever Plant Swap at the library, giving an opportunity for area gardeners to bring and trade plants from their gardens.

We did outreach at this year’s Riverfest at Carolanne Farms Park in Virginia Beach.   And we’ve been actively working with the Elizabeth River Project to identify a possible location in the Indian River area for Riverfest 2018.

At our monthly meetings, guest speakers this year included:
  • Joe Rieger from the Elizabeth River Project and Raul Gonzalez from the Hampton Roads Sanitation District discussing the Indian River Restoration efforts
  • Jim Haluska discussing Sea Level Rise
  • Vicki Roberts of the Beekeepers Guild of Southeast Virginia discussing bees
  • Dr. Laurie Fox, Horticulture Associate Virginia Tech Hampton Roads Agricultural Research and Extension Center discussing Sustainable Gardening
  • Dreda Symonds, Director of Chesapeake Mosquito Control Commission discussing mosquitoes
  • Jayne Whitney, Diane Burke, and Lynn Gilbert reporting on their Oyster Reef Restoration efforts
  • Zach Jarjoura, Conservation Program Manager (Norfolk) for the Virginia Chapter of the Sierra Club
  • Skip Stiles from Wetlands Watch discussing role of wetlands in mitigating flooding
  • Roland Davis, Chesapeake City Council Member addressing issues
Planning and Zoning

In September, the City Council held a strategic planning retreat.  In reaction to this event, the Friends of Indian sent the City Council a letter with our thoughts on long term planning urging them to find a better balance between new development and revitalization efforts in our existing neighborhoods. Key considerations that we identified were to
  1. Budget to Support Incremental/Infill Development
  2. Create Safe and Welcoming Streets
  3. Address the Infrastructure Maintenance Backlog
  4. Develop a plan to respond to a changing retail landscape
  5. Establish a new balance between Revitalization vs. New Development
  6. Re-focus on our City’s Sustainability Plan
You can read the full letter at http://www.friendsofindianriver.org/2017/09/input-on-long-term-planning-for-city-of.html

Shorter term, we are focusing on the Aqua Virginia/Indian River Shopping Center issue.  After a contentious public meeting in January, the City and Aqua Virginia have been in negotiations on a deal that will improve the water quality for residents in the Aqua service area and provide for fire suppression water supply to the Indian River Shopping Center.   The proposed contract would enable a potable water cross-connection between the City and Aqua for the City to provide water for emergencies and for flushing of the Aqua water pipes. The City would also be able to provide water to the Indian River Shopping Center for fire suppression which would enable redevelopment at the site. Aqua would install fire hydrants across the western side of their service area and then upgrade the piping in the eastern side over the next several years.   Our understanding is that the deal has gone through various reviews but various details, including around the financial arrangements, are still being hashed out and as of December, the deal is not finalized.

Awards and Recognitions

One of our long time members, Lynn Gilbert, was the winner of this City’s Notable Yards Contest for the Indian River area this year.   Her home was recognized for her commitment to healthy environmental practices and work with the Elizabeth River Project to create a living shoreline on the property.

At the annual Chesapeake Environmental Improvement Council Awards Luncheon, our own Carol Warren received a Certificate of Appreciation for her work to improve our natural areas, including her efforts to revitalize the Plymouth Community Park and establish a canoe/kayak launch site along the Indian River.

And, just this month the Elizabeth River Project has accepted our application to become a River Star Business.  We are very proud to announce that they are recognizing us at the Model Level, their highest level of achievement!  The Elizabeth River Project called out our exceptional accomplishments in pollution prevention, wildlife habitat enhancement, recruitment and mentoring of others in the community, and leadership in environmental stewardship.


Now on to 2018!   Please join us at our annual meeting on Thursday, January 18th, at 7 pm at Oaklette United Methodist Church as we hold election for our board and review plans for the coming year.


Active Supporting Members and Volunteers 2017

Paul Atkinson V
Gary Ball MV
Glen Batt MV
Jervone Bowens V
Diane Burke MV*
Joe Burke M
William Burke V
Kamesha Champaco V
Tabitha Eddy MV
Candace Exam V
Bill Garrett M
Lynn Gilbert MV*
Debra & Pat Goodman M
Helene Haluska MV*
Jim Haluska M
Jocelyn Hamilton V
Jim Hartle MV
Sara Howard MV
Dean Howard M
Sue Hurst M
Jean Hyson V
Joe Ipock V
Lisa & Tom KennedyM
Sharon Komenda MV*
Susan Borka Lambert M
Fred Lebay V
Mu Lee V
Faith Marshall V
Chris & Ed MatthewM
Barbara McCane MV*
Keith & Debbie Moore M
Larry Nero V
Sandy Oman M
Scott Oman MV
Melanie Potter MV
Rosie Rallos V
Jim Raper M
Shalon Richardson V

Tony Riley V
June Gale Robbins M
Geney & Richard Ross M
Rogard Ross MV*
Guy & Carlyn St. John M
Katie Schemmel M
Carl Smith V
Ram Surapaneni V
Carol Warren MV*
Amy Weber MV*
Alex Whitney V
Chris Whitney MV
Jayne Whitney MV*
Wicker’s Crab Pot Seafood M
I’esha Wynn V
Shaun Wynn-Bouder MV

Another 83 Other Volutneers for
Clean the Bay Day in June
M – Supporting Member       V – Volunteer     
* - Completed more than 100 lifetime volunteer hours with FIR

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