The Friends of the James River Park
gathered on October 5th for the 6th Annual Ralph White River Heroes Celebration to honor this year’s recipients of River Hero awards. The Ralph White River Heroes is an initiative of the Friends named for Ralph White, who served as the park superintendent for nearly 33 years prior to retiring in 2012.
Ralph White speaks at the awards presentation.
This year there were 20 nominations across three categories: Preservation, Education and Promotion. Due to the outstanding nature of the nominations, the esteemed panel of city officials and prior River Heroes determined it was necessary to add a fourth winner this year for a truly outstanding volunteer.
VCU’s Outdoor Adventure Program and its leader Joey Parent won the River Hero award for Education. Through its work, OAP has significantly expanded its mission to support courses and outreach within the Park. For example, OAP was a key collaborator in developing the “Footprints on the James” course. OAP played a critical role in supporting VCU’s partnership with the River Management Society to offer a “River Studies and Leadership Certificate,” and this summer OAP helped support the Math Science Summer Investigators “Mapping Biodiversity in River Rock Pools” program for Richmond Public high school sophomores. Further, OAP has directly supported and promoted the park through over 100 volunteer hours annually. Perhaps the greatest way in which the VCU OAP has helped support the park is through capacity building. There are graduates of the OAP leadership program both working and volunteering at the JRPS, True Timber, JROC, Riverside Outfitters, RVA Paddlesports, Richmond MORE, and Richmond Cycling Corps, to name a few. VCU OAP has played an important role in supporting the Park for more than three decades. Under the current leadership of Joey Parent this support has continued to increase.
The award for promotion for 2017 went to Warren Foster, who passed away suddenly in July of this year. Warren served on the Board of Friends of the James River Park for many years. He loved the river, spent time on the river, and promoted it to all who would listen. He made an ongoing effort to clean and protect Williams Island and personally developed signage on the island that he referred to as ‘Warren’s Island.’
In 2009 Warren presented the Board with details of his proposal to develop a James River Park license plate, with plans to take the issue to the General Assembly in 2010 for the first of many hurdles. Today, the Friends receives funding annually from the Department of Motor Vehicles. Due to the increasing popularity of the plates, the annual funding continues to grow and currently exceeds $25,000. These funds go toward our organizational efforts to support and maintain the James River Park System.
The award was presented to Warren’s wife, June, and daughter, Allison.
The award for preservation was awarded to Laura Greenleaf. Laura saw a problem with invasive plant species in the park and recognized the various partner organizations that were trying to do their part to remove them, but with no clear plan. She championed the JRPS Invasive Plant Task Force and was the coordinator of the group when it first formed in 2015. She has recently passed on that position, but the task force would not be what it is today without the passion and organization that she brought to helping form this group. She is still active in the task force and leads the invasive plant removal and native plant restoration at Pony Pasture with the Riverine Virginia Master Naturalists.
Margaret Maslak was awarded the first-ever Most Outstanding Volunteer award. Margaret is the consummate James River Park volunteer. She’s a trailblazer, literally. As a devoted trail builder and trail maintenance JRP volunteer, she usually works a day or so maybe every week, plus dropping by to finish up or just put in a couple of hours. Her trail work includes trimming, rerouting, constructing boardwalks, removing stumps, painting, just about everything. She has probably worked on every trail in the park, and the staff even recognize this fact. She is tenacious and thorough, working until the job at hand is completed, then continuing on to tidy up another section of trail. Her trail-maintenance devotion to the park is unrelenting. She works solo and also with groups such as RVA MORE, or JROC. She’s been an avid James River volunteer for many years.
The Friends also recognized the significant contributions of both Myrna Hartley and Mary Helen Sullivan. Myrna and Mary Helen served on the Board of the Friends of the James River Park with over 15 years of combined service between them. Myrna served as both the Treasurer and on the Membership committee. Mary Helen served on the Finance and Communications Committees. And both could be counted on to volunteer for special events throughout the years. Their contributions are missed!
I was the Outdoors Columnist at the Times-Dispatch from 2007 to 2013, writing twice a week about mountain biking, fishing, hunting, paddling and much more. I live a 1/4 mile from the James River, close enough to see bald eagles soaring over my house on their way to find a meal. Pretty cool, eh?