Tuesday, December 24, 2019

2019 Year End Report

As we look back at 2019, we once again thank our many dedicated volunteers and supporters. This year's successes include:
  • 50+ volunteers contributing over 1100 hours on projects including cleanups, gardening, outreach, and coordinating with partner organizations.
  • Removing more than 1800 lbs. of trash, litter, and debris from area streets, parks, and waterways during Clean the Bay Day, International Coastal Cleanup, Adopt-A-Road and Adopt-A-Park events.  
  • Celebrating the takeover by the City of the old Aqua Virginia Water System in the Norfolk Highlands area, clearing one obstacle to revitalizing Indian River Shopping Center 
  • Successfully advocating for the City to include funding for the new Heron Landing Park on the Indian River in the 5-Year Capital Budget. Engineering design work is expected to start in 2020.
  • Organizing BioBlitz 2019 at Indian River Park, where 65 volunteers and guests spent the day exploring Indian River Park and learning about the local flora and fauna.
  • Seeing the installation of new playground equipment at Plymouth Park.
  • Dealing with the impacts of the new Fieldstone Condo development adjacent to Indian River Park, including working to re-align the project's water and sewer lines to minimize impacts to the park's forest.
  • Starting a mini-grant program in partnership with the Elizabeth River Project to encourage homeowners to install living shorelines and other conservation landscaping practices.
In 2020, we will continue our many partnerships to improve the quality of life in our community.  Some key engagements will include:
  • Working with the City Planning Department and our community to develop the Indian River Area Small Area Plan.  This plan will outline a long-term vision and immediate action plans for sustaining and improving the Indian River area.  One key focus area for us is how to revitalize the Indian River Shopping Center.
  • Providing input on the City's overall Comprehensive Plan which is due in the coming year for its twice a decade revision.
  • Working with the Parks, Recreation, and Tourism Department and other stakeholders to develop a trail management plan for Indian River Park
  • And, as we celebrate the 50th anniversary of Earth Day, working to develop a sustainability mindset within our community, our city, and the Tidewater region.  Toward this end, we'll be participating in the City's first ever Chesapeake Conservation Conference in March and planning Earth Day activities in April - and promoting healthy environmental practices throughout the year.
So, please join us at our Annual Meeting on Thursday, January 16th, at 7 pm at Oaklette United Methodist Church, 520 Oaklette Drive, Chesapeake, VA, as we hold election for our board and review plans for the coming year!

The Friends of Indian River are an all volunteer, local 501(c)(3) non-profit.  You can support our efforts by becoming a member, renewing your membership, or just making a contribution online at http://www.friendsofindianriver.org/p/membership.html



River Restoration

Our Clean the Bay Day effort was rained on this year.  But despite the morning downpour, about 20 volunteers braved the weather to clean up at Woodland Lake by the Indian River School Complex and removed about 550 lbs. of trash including a terrible quantity of plastic bottles.

In September, we held our 2nd Annual River Cleanup as part of International Coastal Cleanup.  Over 3 hours, 10 volunteers in canoes, kayaks, and a skiff, collected over 1000 bottles, cans, food wrappers, plastic bags, and other pieces of litter - filling 15 bags and weighing about 250 lbs.

We've continued to work with the Elizabeth River Project's (ERP) Eastern Branch Steering Committee regarding on-going efforts to improve local water quality.  The ERP worked on at least two more Living Shoreline project along the Indian River this year, with help from Friends of Indian River volunteers.

This year, we signed a memorandum of understanding with the ERP for us to create a mini-grant program in partnership with the ERP to encourage homeowners to install living shorelines and other conservation landscaping practices.   This program pledged up to $250 per project to offset the homeowner portion of the project cost.   Learn more at http://www.friendsofindianriver.org/p/programs.html

Public Access

We successfully advocated for the City to include capital funding for the new Heron Landing Park on the Indian River in the 5-Year Capital Budget. Engineering design work is expected to start in 2020.

Parks and Trails

The most critical event at Indian River Park this year was the start of construction on a major condo development adjacent to the park.  Zoning for this development was originally approved in 2009, but construction was put off by the "Great Recession".  But the project re-emerged with a new owner in 2018 with final site plans approved in the spring of 2019.  This summer the developer cleared the 17 acres of privately owned woods next to the park and started construction on what will eventually be 182 condo townhomes to be known as the Fieldstone Condominiums.

In our review of the site plans for the condo project, we discovered that the City and the developer were planning to run water and sewer lines for the project across Indian River Park to hook up with the mains on Paramont Avenue.  The original plans would have clear cut another 40' wide swath of trees along on the north side of the power lines.  This would destroy another 32,000 square feet of mature forest.  We ramped up an immediate advocacy effort, going to City Council and starting a petition drive, to find an alternative to this plan.  Thanks to a receptive response from the City and some flexibility on the engineering, we were able to reach a compromise that reduced the utility right of way to a 16' wide corridor on the south side of the power lines, more than half of which was already clear of trees, significantly limiting the net loss of trees.

On a happier note, in April we held another BioBlitz at Indian River Park. About 65 volunteers and guests spent the day exploring Indian River Park and learning about the local flora and fauna. Expert guides from the Cape Henry Audubon, Chesapeake Parks, Recreation & Tourism (PR&T), Old Dominion University, Virginia Big Trees, and the Tidewater Master Naturalists led five hikes and set up information tables at the park.  Topics included birds, amphibians, reptiles, insects, butterflies, trees, wildflowers, and more.  Big thanks to PR&T for partnering with us on this event and to the Chesapeake Master Gardeners, Tidewater Master Naturalist, ERP, and Boy Scout Troop 320 for supporting the event.

Throughout the year at Indian River Park, volunteers maintained the native plant garden at the trailhead entrance area and the nature trail.  Another ongoing focus was combating invasive species, particularly English Ivy and Japanese Stilt Grass, with both group and individual volunteer efforts.  Contact us to learn more about joining our Native Plant Gardening and RIP (Remove Invasive Plant) teams.  We also worked to get the PR&T to get two new bridges installed at the south end of the park to reconnect trails disrupted by the condo construction.

Looking longer term, we asked the PR&T to work with us and other stakeholders to develop an overall trail management plan for the Indian River Park.  Since the City took ownership of the parkland in 2001, it has largely taken a hands off approach.  With growing popularity and use of the park, and the increased usage expected with the new condo development, this risk having a continued degradation of the park.  We're hoping that a trail advisory group can be established to collect input from park users and better manage the park.

Meanwhile, in a major upgrade, a brand new playground was installed at Plymouth Park in spring.  We also completed one group cleanup at Plymouth Park.  Individual volunteers, especially Carol Warren, continued many on-going maintenance tasks at the park throughout the year, including tending to the flower garden at the park sign.  Next year we expect to plant more trees at the park.






Walkable and Bikeable Community

Volunteers continued upkeep on the flower gardens and trees in our Adopt-A-Spot program on the approaches to the Indian River Oaklette Bridge.   Most of this effort involves individual volunteers who have "adopted" one of the gardens and then routinely goes out to tend to and weed the gardens, or look after the trees.  Often unnoticed, diligent work here keeps the bridge area looking attractive.

Main Street Revitalization
Our dedicated volunteers also continue our quarterly roadside cleanups along Indian River Road and around and under the Oaklette Bridge.  During three scheduled cleanups, teams picked up over 1000 lbs. of trash, litter, and debris.

We continued conversations and meetings with the City's Economic Development staff about Indian River Shopping Center.  We also began marketing the idea of Indian River Road being "Main Street Indian River" to give us a stronger sense of identity and highlight the strengths of our community, including its central location on the Southside, its amenities, and it being both a waterfront community and on relatively high ground - some unique in the region.   We continued to promote our program of placing flower planters at key locations along the corridor.  And the Friends sponsored a year-end Holiday Lights and Decoration Contest for the business along our "Main Street" to both start building a sense of community and to make the street sparkle for the holidays.

Green Infrastructure

For both the water and sewer line project across Indian River Park - associated with the condo development - and for a separate upgrade to the sanitary sewer pump station on Providence Road, we asked the City to have the construction sites replanted with a conservation native wildflower seed mix.   That is for areas that could not be replanted with native trees and shrubs, i.e. above the pipeline alignment.  The city agreed and we're advocating that this become a standard practice across the city, part of a broader push to have the city use better "conservation landscaping" practices.

Civic Engagement

In what is becoming a tradition, we organized several nature hikes and events, including at Indian River Park a First Day Hike, a spring hike around Earth Day, and a fall hike.  In February we organized a birding walk at Woodland Lake by the Indian River High School as part of the Great Backyard Bird Count and another at Indian River Park the day after the main BioBlitz event.

We set up information tables at this year's RiverFest in Kempsville, at our local National Night Out event in Norfolk Highlands.

This year's members' education field trip went to the Cherrystone Aqua Farms on the Eastern Shore.   Members learned about this aquaculture business, extoled for their farm-raised oysters and clams.  Raised in the same-salt-flushed waters that their wild counterparts, these oysters and clams are produced in environmentally friendly and sustainable way and that also helps address non-point source pollution in our waterways.

At our monthly meetings, guest speakers this year included:
  • Justin Shafer, Norfolk Environmental Engineer discussed Green Infrastructure
  • Barbara Brumbaugh, Chesapeake Environmental Program Manager, presented on Chesapeake's Water Quality Improvement Plans
  • Ross Weaver, Wetlands Watch, briefed us on their Resilience Research and Design Collaborative
  • Ellen Comstock, United Methodist Church, presented on Earthkeepers and the faith-based community
  • Brent James, Lynnhaven River Now, spoke on Notable Trees
  • Karen and Steve McCurdy, Butterfly Society, presented  “Hooked on Butterflies and Moths”
  • Dana Lusher, Nature's Nanny Wildlife Rehabilitation, brought live
    owls for a presentation  on  "Living Harmoniously with Owls" 
  • Stephen Best, Chesapeake City Council member, and Christopher Price, the new City Manager
Through our dedicated volunteers, we've continued to liaison with multiple organizations including the ERP's River Star Home program, Chesapeake Bay Foundation's Oyster Gardening Program, Wetland Watch's Catch the King Tide, the City of Chesapeake Stormwater Committee, the City of Chesapeake Environmental Improvement Council, the Chesapeake Master Gardeners, and Tidewater Master Naturalists.

Planning and Zoning

In November, the City finally kicked off the long awaited initiative to develop an Indian River Small Area Plan, engaging the outside consultants who will conduct the study.  This plan will outline a long-term vision and more immediate action plans for sustaining and improving the Indian River area.   Several Friends of Indian River board members and the President of the Norfolk Highlands Civic League met with the consultants and a representative from the City Planning Department for a kickoff meeting.  And the next day we gave the consultants a tour of the Indian River area, showing them the good, the bad, the ugly.  Ground zero for the tour was the Indian River Shopping Center, which many consider a major blight for the community.   But we toured the entire area including Norfolk Highlands, Indian River Estates, Tanglewood, Oaklette, Plymouth Park, Georgetown, and Indian River Park.  The City gathered some preliminary input for the plan at the Town Meeting at Indian River High School in December but the primary input meetings are being planned for late January; details are TBD right now.

Awards and Recognitions


Two of our board members were recognized by area environment groups this year.  Amy Weber won top honors at the Chesapeake Environmental Improvement Council's annual Award Luncheon, receiving the Pioneer Award for all her continuing good work.  .  The Chesapeake Bay Foundation - Virginia highlighted the work of Lynn Gilbert does advocating for clean water.

Carol Warren is a dedicated advocate for Plymouth "Community" Park and also has completed significant hands on work to improving the park.  To recognize this effort, the Friends of Indian River board took steps to have a plaque installed on one of the park's benches in her honor.

Active Supporting Members and Volunteers 2019


Joe Alvarez V
Jill Arnone M
LaVerne Avant M
Gary Ball MV
Susan Ball M
Glen Batt MV
Hunter Blalock V
Diane Burke MV*
Joe Burke M
Margie Carraway M
Shannon Cook V
Vickie Easley MV
Sonny Ertsgaard V
Lynn Gilbert MV*
Grace Gonzalez V
Sarah Kelly Gonzalez V
Dylan Green V
Eric Green V
Bill and Joan Gregory M
Gilbert Griffin MV
David and Lynn Greenfield M

Helene Haluska MV*
Jim Haluska MV
Jim and Corinne Harrison V
Jim Hartle MV*
Jacob Helmka M
Mike Hoffman V
Sara Howard V
Randy Jackson V
Walter Jacques V
Elaine Jimenez V
Barbara Johnson V
Sharon Komenda MV*
Mella Leibrand M
Paige LewisM
Chris MatthewMV
Ed MatthewMV
Barbara McCane MV*
Keith and Debbie Moore M
Larry Nero V
Melanie Potter MV


Jim Raper M
Jennifer Raymond M
Mary Reno M
Randy Riffle V
Ron Riffle V
June Gale Robbins M
Rogard Ross MV*
Elaine Simpson V
Carol Warren MV*
Amy Weber MV*
Alex Whitney V
Chris Whitney MV*
Jayne Whitney MV*
Shaun Wynn-Bouder V
Darol Wood V
Tony Wood V
Alana and George YacusM

Another 11 Other Volunteers 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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