Wednesday, December 27, 2023

2023 Year in Review

A key focus for the Friends of Indian River this year has been following up on the implementation of the Indian River Small Area Plan and various projects and issues that affect our community.  This year the City kicked off a number of new planning initiatives including a major revision of the citywide Comprehensive Plan.  Locally, several projects are in planning or design, including bike lanes for Indian River Road, so we're hoping to actually see implementation start in 2024.  

Perhaps the biggest win for the year is the start of construction for the new Blue Heron Landing Park just off Indian River Road across from Lilac Avenue.  Building the park entails a major shoreline restoration. The site was a former parking lot constructed of rubble fill behind an improvised sea wall. The project will tear all this out and reconstruct a living shoreline including an oyster reef, tidal low and high marshes and forested uplands replanted with native trees and plants.  A boardwalk and kayak launch will complete the new park.  The project is scheduled to be completed by the summer of 2024!

In the meantime, our volunteers have kept busy.  Some highlights for this past year include:
- 1880 lbs. Trash Removed over Multiple Cleanups
- 9 Hikes and Nature Walks 
- 4 Guest Speakers
- 1 High School Scholarship Awarded
- 1 Environmental Award Received
- Overall, 74 Volunteers performed 800+ Volunteer Hours

Please join us for our Annual Meeting and Volunteer Appreciation Event on Thursday, January 18 at 7 pm at Oaklette United Methodist Church, 520 Oaklette Drive.   We'll recognize our volunteers and the great work they do at this meeting and there will be refreshments including various appetizers and desserts.  We will also discuss plans for 2024 and hold elections for our Board. All are welcome.

The Friends of Indian River is 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

Year in Review

Indian River Small Area Plan

Nearly two years ago, in December 2021, the residents of the Indian River area celebrated the approval of the Indian River Planning Area Study by the City Council. One of the key parts of the Plan was the inclusion of an Implementation Strategy defining Short (0 to 2 years), Medium, and Long Term actions to fulfill the goals outlined in the document at

Today we are very excited to see construction under way at the new Blue Heron Landing Park along the Indian River; this will be a major new amenity for the community.  We are also pleased that the Planning Department has begun work on the Design Guidelines for the Commercial Corridors.  These are perhaps the two most significant examples of progress from the implementation matrix.  Another key project funded by the City Council in May of 2022, the addition of bicycle lanes along Indian River Road was recently slated to start additional engineering analysis by Public Works.  And just this past month the City Council approved plans related to the revitalization of the Peaceful Village public housing in Campostella and MacDonald Manor public housing at the south end of MacDonald Rd, another goal included in the Plan.  

However, many other Short Term goals have seen little to no action.  These include planning for pedestrian and bicycle safety improvements across the community, steps to preserve and rehabilitate existing residential areas, developing an economic development strategy for the community, developing stormwater mitigation strategies, enacting policy changes to encourage tree preservation, allocating streetscape improvements funds to our community, or reaching out to the Chesapeake Public Schools with regards to first steps in creating a cohesive civic campus around the Indian River High School/Community Center/Middle School/Library.  With the Medium Term (2+ years) is just around the corner and there will be even more goals to reach for.  

After the approval of the Plan in 2021, the City stated it would organize an implementation steering committee that would meet on a regularly occurring basis and include both City staff and community members.  When we held the Friends' Annual Meeting in January of 2023, we had reason to expect the formation of the Steering Committee early in the year, but that did not happen.  We raised it again with the Deputy City Manager in May.  And in the past month, we again reached out to the City Manager about progress on implementation of the Plan and setting up the steering committee with community involvement. We also addressed this issue directly to the City Council at one of their December meetings. We hope to receive feedback from the City that we can share at our Annual Meeting in January. 

Volunteer Events

We ramped up our volunteer cleanups doing the Great American Cleanup (co-hosted with the Chesapeake Environmental Improvement Council), and Earth Day cleanup, Clean the Bay Day, the International Coastal Cleanup, and two Adopt-A-Road cleanups.  All together 74 volunteers collect 1880 lbs. of trash at Indian River Park, Plymouth Park, along the shores of the Indian River, at the lake by the Civic Campus (High School/Middle School/Community Center), and along Indian River Road. 

We held several Adopt-A-Park events at Indian River Park to tend to the Native Plant Garden.  A key effort was to give the garden a makeover by clearing out the many of the irises in the front garden to allow some of the other flowers - including black-eyed susans and coneflowers - bloom. But we retained enough native blue flag irises to re-establish a smaller collection in the garden next year.  We also replaced the stakes on the tree signs on the Nature Trail in the Park this spring. 

We also continued on-going efforts to manage the spread of invasive plants in the park, including removing Japanese Stilt Grass, pulling English Ivy, and pruning back the red-berried Linden Viburnum.  A key strategy is containment to reduce the spread of the plants and additional volunteers are needed!  

We also had a dedicated crew of volunteers kept up with regular maintenance at the various gardens maintained by the Friends of Indian River through the year, including at the Indian River Oaklette Bridge, Indian River Park, Plymouth Park, and several planters along Indian River Road.  Without their dedicated efforts, these gardens would likely get overrun by plants we don't want in these plantings, i.e., "weeds".  (Although the definition of what is a weed varies depending on gardening goals).   We also thank the volunteers outside our group who maintain other public gardens in the area, including at the Rokeby Center and the Indian River Library.  All these efforts help make our community beautiful!

Overall, 74 volunteers performed 800+ Volunteer Hours with the Friends of Indian River in 2023

Planning and Zoning

The City kicked off multiple new planning efforts in 2023 including a major revision of the City Comprehensive Plan, the drafting of the Greenbrier Area Plan, and a Trails and Connectivity Plan.  The Indian River Small Area Plan would continue to be an addendum to the updated Comprehensive Plan.  We encourage residents to stay engaged in providing input to these plans.  Several more public feedback sessions are expected for these plan updates in 2024.  

We've also been following plans for redevelopment of the property of the old Cornerstone Christian School between Willow Avenue and Sparrow Road to a multi-family residential development named Cornerstone Highlands.  The developer has shared multiple site plan revisions with us, generally showing 21 townhouses and villas on the 1.5 acre property.  The Friends of Indian River have provided feedback and concerns related to these site plans with the developer with the goal of improving the plans to better fit into the community.  The proposal is not yet scheduled for presentation to the City Planning Commission and we will continue to engage both the developer and City.  

Another concern that arose in the fall was the construction of duck hunting blind on the Indian River in a literal jurisdictional loophole.  Located on the river between the Norfolk Highlands, Plymouth Park, and Oaklette neighbors it is just over 150 yards from any of the approximately 50 homes surrounding the hunting blind. There is ambiguity on whether the City can enforce its ordinance prohibiting the discharge of weapons on State waters.  We've engaged the City Council and our newly elected State Delegate Bonita Anthony on the issue to find a way to address the concerns of residents.    

Connecting with Nature

We continued our Second Saturday Hike program at Indian River Park in 2023 with 7 hikes plus our First Day Hike on New Year's Day.  

In February, we had one of our best Great Backyard Bird Count bird walks ever around the lake between the Indian River Community Center and the High School.  Right at the start, we spotted two Bald Eagles and two Ospreys wheeling across the sky above the lake.  The ospreys were already building their nest. Then we had a real treat with a flock of 18 Ring-necked Ducks on the lake; this is a first for us and the flock may have been blown here by the previous day's storm.  They were joined by 5 Northern Shoveler ducks, 3 Pied-billed Grebes, a couple of Double-Crested Cormorants, some Mallards, and lots of Canada Geese.  We also saw Great Blue Herons, Hooded Merganser, 3 kinds of woodpeckers, various sparrows, an Eastern Towhee, and more.   All told, we identified 26 species! 

In the fall, we had a member field trip to visit the Hoffler Creek Wildlife Preserve in Suffolk to see how they manage their park. The invasive species management effort using a herd of goats was particularly interesting. 

Civic Engagement

In 2023, guest speakers at our meetings included:
  • March: Bobby Nance, Certified Arborist, Bartlett Tree Experts, discussing tree care
  • May: Brian Solis, Deputy City Manager, to discuss community priorities
  • September: Barbara Gavin, Elizabeth River Project, to discuss the River Star Homes program
  • November: Daniel Whitaker, Chesapeake City Council, to discuss community priorities
In June, we held a picnic instead of a regular indoor meeting.  

Also in June, we bid farewell to Pastor Tim Hazlett from Oaklette United Methodist Church, who is moving on to his next assignment. Pastor Tim was a strong supporter of the Friends and we wish him the best at his new parish.  

Our president, Rogard Ross, delivered a well-received presentation to the Backyard Gardeners on the History and Value of Trees in Chesapeake. The presentation looked at the transition of land of today's City from an old growth forested swamp to today's suburbia, the role of the timber industry in the history of the City, and the crucial role trees play today in making our City livable.

Of course, we continued our online outreach through our monthly newsletter, Facebook, Instagram, Next Door, and our website.  

Indian River High School Scholarship

The Friends of Indian River Education Scholarship is awarded to an Indian River High School graduating senior who embodies the spirit of the Friends of Indian River mission and excels in leadership, citizenship, extracurricular activities and academics The award this year went to 
Derrick Lawrence. Well respected by the faculty, Derrick is seen as an inspiration for other students, and demonstrates a readiness to help and support others.

Applications are now open for students graduating in 2024.  Learn more about the scholarship at

Awards and Recognitions

At the annual Chesapeake Environmental Improvement Council (CEIC) Environmental Awards Luncheon, our president, Rogard Ross, received the prestigious Pioneer Award for his work with the Friends of Indian River, the Chesapeake Environmental Improvement Council, and other local conservation efforts.

We also congratulate Friends of Indian River members Gary and Susan Ball for being selected as the best Notable Yard in the Indian River for 2023 by the CEIC.  Their River Star Home is a “river-friendly” oasis with a host of benefits for the environment and wildlife. They took advantage of funding opportunities from the Elizabeth River Project to develop a buffer garden along their shoreline that help keep pollutants out of the river and discourage harmful geese from entering their yard. 

There are nearly 200 Elizabeth River Project River Star Homes in the Indian River watershed today, but we want to recruit many more. Learn how you can take advantage of the become a River Star and take advantage of its benefits at

Active Supporting Members and Volunteers 2023

Jill Arnone M
Gary Ball MV*
Susan Ball M
Daniel Brooks M
Stephenie Brazen and family V  
Diane Burke MV*
Joe Burke M
Margie Carraway M
Commonwealth Challenge
Youth Academy
Dollar Tree V
Brian Easley M
Vickie Easley MV
Dean Firth V
Lynn Gilbert M*
David and Lynn Greenfield M 
Michelle Hagdorn M
Helene Haluska MV*
Jim Haluska M
Jim Harrison M
Jim Hartle MV*
Eric Holsinger V
Jill Jamison MV
Kathi Johnson V
Artemis Jones M
Tom Kennedy V
Janet Kerns V
Sharon Komenda MV*   
Susan Lang MV
Paige Lewis M
Devin Malamphy V
Chris Mathew MV
Ed Mathew M
Cheynne Maupin M
Barbara McCane M*
Daniel Murguia V

Keith and Debbie Moore M 
Michael Nerino M
Vic Nichols M
Amy Petersen M
Jennifer Raymond MV
Dennie Reno M
Rogard Ross MV*
Rosie Roszko and family V
Jim Spiegeler M
Peter Tolles V
Carol Warren MV*
Amy Weber MV*
Darius Whitehurst V
Shirley Whitehurst M
Alex Whitney V
Chris Whitney MV*
Jayne Whitney MV*

M – Supporting Member       V – Volunteer     
* - Completed more than 100 lifetime volunteer hours with FIR

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