Tag Archives: James River Park System

Granite structure at 21st Street expected to be torn down

Granite wall at 21st Street access tower on Riverside DriveDuring the recent James River Outdoor Coalition meeting, members discussed improvements and projects for the James River Park. One spot that came up was the granite structure at the 21st Street area off Riverside Drive at the tower to the South Side rocks at Belle Isle.  The members want to knock down the wall, at least to a level where the park abusers cannot hide from view from the street or the dwellings across the street. Continue reading


RIVER RANT: Bike trails closed, wait 24 hours per inch of rain?

The accepted rule of thumb is to wait 24 hours per every inch of rain.The James River Park trails and most Richmond area off-road trails are closed after a period of rain. Richmond has gotten at least two inches this week alone. The accepted rule of thumb is to wait 24 hours per every inch of rain. This should give most trails time to dry out, especially ones maintained as well as the Richmond trails (thanks to the JRPS staff and Richmond Mid-Atlantic Off Road Enthusiasts). Continue reading

James River Park lovers checking to make sure parks are still there

A bridge over Pleasants Creek connects Pony Pasture Rapids Park with The WetlandsA Conservation Easement was placed on right parcels of the James River Park System in May of 2009. The Virginia Department of Conservation, the Capitol Region Land Conservancy and the EnRichmond Foundation (formerly the Richmond Recreation and Parks Foundation) are the conservation easement holders.  This open space and conservation easement, in general, restricts all future development in each parcel, although it does allow for regular maintenance and replacement in kind by the City’s Department of Parks, Recreation, and Community Facilities. Continue reading

Celebrate Winter Solstice at Belle Isle with James River Park

Friends of the James River ParkFrom the Friends of the James River Park:

For the third year in a row, the Friends of the James River Park is marking the Winter Solstice with a low-key yet heartwarming gathering on Belle Isle. Meet at the Tredegar side of the Belle Isle Pedestrian Bridge at 4:45 p.m. on Tuesday, Dec. 21 to walk across the river as the sun sets. We’ll warm ourselves up with togetherness, perhaps a poem or two and by giving gifts to the amazingly devoted James River Park System staff. Bring your own hot chocolate (and a flashlight).

Open letter to Mayor Dwight Jones on J.R. Pope’s resignation

This is the email that I, Phil Riggan, submitted to Richmond Mayor Dwight Jones, city council, Department of Parks, Recreation and Community Facilities interim director Dr. Carolyn Graham and deputy director Roslyn Johnson (among others) in reference to the resignation of J.R. Pope:

I am saddened by the resignation of J.R. Pope as Director of the Department of Parks, Recreation and Community Facilities. My knowledge of his work, leadership and vision through many encounters with the man lead me to believe that he was one of the few department heads in the city that worked efficiently and competently.

I cannot ignore the findings of the report by the city auditor. They are an indicator that improprieties were happening under Pope’s watch and that he should have had better control. However, I don’t find these incidents to have been severe enough for Pope to resign.

The Mayor should not have accepted his resignation. Someone close to the situation has benefitted by Pope’s departure and it is at the citizen’s expense.

J.R. Pope may have been flawed — as the audit seems to illustrate — but the community and volunteer groups are not served by Pope’s absence as parks director.

The citizens of Richmond and the many volunteers that donate their time to help maintain and build trails, facilities, access points, clean trash and guide the future of the parks do not benefit from Pope’s departure. The work we provide to the city is a free community service, one that Pope helped to grow in his short five years as director. It would be a shame to think that inside politics would jeopardize the good work happening outside of the imperfect walls of City Hall. 

My knowledge of J.R. Pope’s time in Richmond has been nothing but positive. I became a volunteer for many “Friends” groups in Richmond in part because people like J.R. Pope and parks department mainstays Ralph White and Nathan Burrell convinced me that the parks were worthy of my time. I have bonded with many wonderful, caring people who together dedicate their free time doing work that would never have been accomplished if left to the City of Richmond.

I hope the City was right in allowing Pope to leave and that after a thorough and successful search we can all be happy with the next director. Please do not allow misguided inside politics or hidden personal agendas to dictate what should happen to our parks, our playgrounds and our river.

-Phil Riggan

I encourage you to send your own emails:


What Richmond loses with J.R. Pope’s resignation

By Phil Riggan – James River News Hub

After five productive and successful years as director of Richmond’s parks, recreation and community facilities department, J.R. Pope has resigned, presumably as the result of a scathing audit.

What does that mean for the “Friends” groups that support Richmond parks? What does that mean for the grand plans Pope had for restoring the Pump House?

If the alleged improprieties listed below are all that Pope is guilty of, then Richmond has lost an effective, popular leader over a rather small, isolated issue. Yes, $36,000 is a lot of money, but I fail to believe that Pope knowingly would condone that type of indiscretion.

I hope Richmond’s parks do not suffer without his leadership. We need keep up the good momentum Richmond. Pope had his department working more efficiently than most any other in the city. He was getting positive results. Citizens have become more invested in our parks, and Pope should get some credit for that.

I spoke with Pope in Summer 2008 after the completion of renovations to the tennis courts at Byrd Park — one of the first phases of many improvements under what was then the “City of the Future” plan. He spoke passionately about parks and communities, and how important it was to him that the city help citizens carry out these projects to help restore people’s pride in Richmond. As we talked, he said something to the effect of “what does it say about a city if it doesn’t take care for its public spaces?”

I have had at least 10 conversations with Pope over the years and I have a hard time believing that he would approve of shenanigans. He had too much personal stake in the improvements.

Take the Forest Hill Park lake restoration for example. The $1.7 million project was reportedly finished the with about $145,000 left in the bank and the project was completed nearly a month ahead of schedule.

Improvements to the walls at Young's Pond in Joseph Bryan ParkIn the past year, the City of Richmond spent $805,000 at 100-year-old Joseph Bryan Park to make improvements to two ponds, including the dredging of the Azalea Garden pond. There are plans to construct a building for concessions and restrooms near the soccer fields and add a gazebo in the Azalea Garden within the next 12 months.

But what about the James River Park System, the largest and clearly the most important park in Richmond? There have been many improvements under Pope’s watch, but likely that can be more attributed to his staying out of the way of the determined JRPS staff under Ralph White’s direction and the many volunteer groups that stake their own claims to improving the facilities, trails and access to the James River.

The Pump House - are the plans out the door?The Pump House could end up being the unfinished crown jewel for Pope. The goal was that the old gothic treasure would become be the new home for the JRPS visitor’s center. If nothing else, it could be a museum, learning center, host weddings, parties, events and the canal could once again be in operation. That was Pope’s vision, and he had been in recruiting mode for the past couple of years trying to rally funding and interest among Richmond’s philanthropists.

The Pump House — which was designed by the great Richmond city engineer Col. Wilfred Emory Cutshaw and built in the 1880s —  has been under renovation for the past decade. It is still considered a stabilized ruin, according to park manager Ralph White. The architectural plans to renovate it have been drawn, but funding the project could have called for more than $8.5 million.

Now that Pope has resigned, is the dream of the restoration of the Pump House gone with him? What about his vision for Bryan Park? Will his eventual replacement respect the strong relationships Pope helped build with the many park “Friends” groups in Richmond? Will the James River Park System maintain its operational freedom?

Several media outlets brought to light the allegations from City Auditor Umesh V. Dalal’s report, starting with Richmond Magazine’s Chris Dovi:

Dalal’s office was in the middle of a scheduled audit of the department when it received a tip about the two employees, who earned a combined total of $18,000 in overtime during fiscal year 2010.

From the Richmond Times-Dispatch report:

 Two investigative reports criticized oversight in the parks department and said the city had spent $36,673 on an unnecessary and still-unfinished project to refurbish a reception counter for the Pine Camp Community Center… The auditor’s Office of the Inspector General chronicled the activities of two parks maintenance employees and accused one or both of unauthorized use of a city vehicle for personal business, sleeping during work hours, inadequate supervision and excessive overtime charges.

From NBC12:

The report also shows an untrained equipment operator was hurt when he mishandled a saw that led to a nearly $25,000 medical bill.

According to a release, Mayor Dwight Jones placed the Department of Parks, Recreation and Community Facilities under the interim direction of Deputy CAO Dr. Carolyn Graham. A national search for a new director will take place immediately. Disciplinary hearings have been ordered for the employees involved in the improper incidents.

J.R. Pope resigns as Director of Richmond parks department

From Richmond Magazine:

J.R. Pope, director of Richmond’s parks, recreation and community facilities department, has resigned, confirms City Auditor Umesh Dalal, whose office today issued an inspector general’s report finding that two employees under Pope had improperly billed the city for overtime while building what may be the most expensive desk the city has ever purchased. A receptionist at the parks department confirmed Pope’s resignation during a call for comment from Pope.

J.R. Pope is one of the best things to happen to Richmond in a long time. I have met him on many occasions, done many stories about his work and have admired his work for years. The work of his department to improve Richmond parks and again get citizens involved in their community gathering places is worthy of praise. The cooperation in recent years between the city and groups working to build better parks was largely due to J.R. Pope’s good work. If Pope really leaves Richmond, we’ll have a tough time replacing him. Let’s not lose the momentum the Parks and Recreation Department has built up — continue to support your Richmond parks and create a better city. Great scoop by Chris Dovi and Richmond Magazine. [Comment from Phil Riggan, James River News Hub]