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Where's Grandma Moses when I need her?

 

‘Twas the week before Christmas when all through the park, all the creatures were stirring; they like it in the dark. The applications were set in the mailbox with care in hopes that a James River Park license plate soon would be there.

The salamanders were nestled all snug in the mud while visions of license plates danced in the crud. And FOJRP board members in our kerchiefs and I in my cap had just settled our brains for a long winter’s nap.

When out in the park there arose such a clatter, we sprang to the river to see what was the matter. When what to our wondering eyes did appear, but a miniature truck and actual deer, with a little old driver so lively and bright, we knew in a moment it must be Ralph White.

He was dressed all in khaki from his head to his toe except for the kneesocks if you really must know. A bundle of presents he had in his truck but he said the park needed a couple of bucks. His eyes–how they twinkled! His dimples how merry. His cheeks were all bearded–park employees are hairy.

He spoke a few words, but went straight to his work, and filled us with awe; then dealt with a jerk. As anyone who loves the James River Park knows, we’d all be so lost without Ralph’s poetry and prose.

He sprang to his truck, to his team used his bullhorn and away they all drove like the scrape of a sharp thorn. But I heard him exclaim ere he drove out of state, Happy Christmas to all, and to all a JRPS license plate!

We don’t need Clarence the angel’s help to get our 350 completed license plate applications by January–we need YOURS! We’ve received more than 190 completed applications so far, but we need another 160 this next month to make this dream a reality. I believe, but Friends of James River Park needs all of our members and friends to send applications in today! (Pay with PayPal at www.jamesriverpark.org  and get the application and info)

Here are 5 ways to help us get the plate now:

 #1 Think of the people who have made the park possible–Jack Keith, Jr., Joe Schaefer, Louise Burke, R.B. Young, and so many more. Buy a plate in their honor. I’m giving Louise a plate as a small token of appreciation for her work with her Girl Scout troop and concerned neighbors saving Pony Pasture from becoming a highway in the 1960’s. I’m a Brownie drop-out and I do NOT want to compound that humilation with having to tell Louise that she’ll never get a James River Park System license plate. Let’s get this done! Whom do you want to honor? 

 #2 Please spread the word on Facebook and Twitter. SportsBackers, Dominion RiverRock and our James River Park Facebook page. That will keep the buzz going.

 #3 Ask your friends and neighbors. Have their walks, runs, paddles, and bike rides in the James River Park System given them $25 worth of value this year?  It’s time to give the JRPS a present for all it has done for all of us. 

 #4 If you know of any large-scale event coming up (even in January) where park-lovers would be gathering and we could set up a table to promote the plates, please let us know at friends@jamesriverpark.org and perhaps volunteer to staff such tables.

 #5 For the person who has everything this holiday season, give him or her the promise of beautiful James River Park license plates. It’s a green gift–no wrapping necessary– and it will add park pride to the owner’s vehicle when they receive it in June. They’ll be reminded of you every time they ogle their plates.

 FOJRP believes it is crucial for the Friends to secure this dependable stream of income (once we have 1000 plates on the road, FOJRP gets $15 of every renewal and new application over that) in light of uncertain budgetary times for parks. We have composting toilets, trailhead signs, kiosks, trail markers and more we’d like to purchase and programs we’d like to underwrite so everyone can enjoy the park for years to come. Thanks so much for your help in clearing the first hurdle of our license plate campaign this January.

You will be jealous of my James River Park System Virginia license plates next spring. It doesn’t have to be that way, people. I’ve already put in my order for the prettiest plates that aren’t in town quite yet. You can get our own and not have to drive around behind my cruddy RAV4 ogling my license plates. It’s simple. Click here:  JamesRiverPark_LicensePlate_FAQ11  Read the info, print the Virginia license plate info out, fill it out with your VIN number and such and send in a check for $25 (or $35 for a vanity plate) to Friends of James River Park, P.O. Box 4453 Richmond VA 23220.  Please and thank you.

You can also visit the Friends tent at the South of the James Farmers’ Market in Forest Hill Park this Saturday, Oct. 9th and Saturday, Oct. 30th to chat and pick up park pamphlets ($2) and license plate applications.

When we collect 350 completed and paid for applications (we have more than 100 now), we mosey on down to the General Assembly in January and they approve our special and beautiful license plate. (It might be the only thing the General Assembly will do that will make you happy.)  The plate is then made, and delivered to all those with the foresight to order them, in June 2011.

Yes, you must be patient, but the James River Park System rewards patience–more reliably than state government.  Sometimes you have to wait for the pedestrian to get out of your mountain biking way on the Buttermilk Trail. You have to wait for fall for the sun to set the treetops across the river all aglow near Riverside Meadow. And sometimes you have to wait in line at Pony Pasture in the summer for a parking spot. Nothing wrong with waiting for something worth waiting for.

Besides being able to proclaim your love for the James River Park System, 550+ acres of wilderness in the city (I can steal the Friends’ line cause I’m the president of FOJRP), once 1000 cars are sporting these plates, $15 of the James River Park System license plate fee from each order gets sent to Friends of James River Park, providing our all-volunteer group with a steady stream of income with which to help maintain, preserve, and enhance Richmond’s big backyard.  We have big plans for directional signage at trailheads, our gorgeous and helpful new web site is about to launch (more on that later), and you know quite well that the park is chronically underfunded and understaffed, so the Friends can always find good use for the funds. Don’t be caught in your car with some ugly ole license plate. Park your ride, please!

One of the most worthwhile walks you’ll ever take is best done with a guide.  I’ve walked the walk twice now–the first time with a small group of folks on a cold, gray Saturday in February a few years ago with a James River Park System guide and more recently on a hot June night as a part of Elegba Folklore Society\’s Juneteenth celebration with 300 other people. Both walks were moving and enlightening, yet remarkably different experiences given the weather, numbers of people, and the bells and whistles (or rather drums and dances) that Elegba brought to the event.

Elegba Folklore Society during Juneteenth

Sadly, tours of the Richmond Slave Trail come few and far between. If you missed the Juneteenth torchlit walk last month, you get a chance to take a Ralph White-led walk later this month on Saturday, July 24th at 8:30 p.m. Details from Friends of James River Park here.

 

My park-led tour was intimate and somber as it was a small group. After an introduction we walked a section in silence, arms outstretched, hands on the shoulders of the person ahead in a symbolic linking of the chains that bound enslaved people walking to and from the slave markets in Shockoe Bottom. Though slaves were initially brought here from Africa, Richmond’s slave trade peaked after the banning of the international slave trade. By then Virginia had excess slaves and the Deep South wanted them, so Richmond became the hub of the interstate slave trade.  Those of us on the tour had ample opportunity to ask our guide questions and ponder how unsatisfactorily our city and country have grappled with this all too hidden history.

Drumming and dancing and living history were dynamic additions to the torchlit slave trail walk that was the culmination of  the Juneteenth celebration and led by the eloquent Janine Bell. 

Starting out at dusk.

With so many people, q and a was understandably not available, but the dramatic sight of the torches bobbing ahead and across the Mayo Bridge and the sounds of children asking their parents questions added poignancy and energy. When we stopped at the Canal Walk, people filled the large staircase and the plaza below to listen to more fantastic drumming and watch exuberant dancing and re-enactments. I’ve never seen the Canal Walk so alive. 

Now this walk on July 24th won’t feature the drumming and dancing, but it will still be dramatic. Ralph ‘s rumbling voice and the torches will illuminate what’s been hidden too long. If you can’t make it then, at least take a look at the Richmond Slave Trail Guide which is essential for taking this walk along and across the river, starting at Manchester Docks at Ancarrow’s Landing at the end of Maury Street just south and east of downtown. More signs are due along the trail, but when the chance comes for a guided tour, take it.

I swear I thought of this topic on our last vacation, before the guy broke his ankle badly, tore the ligaments and dislocated the bejeezus out of everything. I had a whole series of articles planned–perhaps even books–Best Cities My Husband Won’t Go To, Best Art Galleries He Won’t Visit, etc. I’d write Best Sofas for Watching World Cup and the Tour de France, but there’s only one–in fact–only one spot on one sofa that rates the highest marks.

I have actual sympathy for his current state, I really do. I have absolute faith that he will return to fine bike-riding form. I also know that he will still think the following bike ride is nuts. 

I like to head west in Westover Hills and Woodland Heights along Riverside Drive to sneak into Manchester and go where it looks like no one should go–past Legend Brewing through the old warehouse and factory district on bumpy roads with the occasional old railroad track to cross and then cut across Hull Street and go north, close to Caravati\’s, the architectural salvage mecca, taking any number of  numbered streets to Maury St. where the oil storage tanks live. Go left through the desolate landscape where it looks like human beings have no business and continue up and over more railroad tracks under I-95 past the city’s sewage treatment plant and swing left into Ancarrow’s Landing and Manchester Docks. It’s exciting riding through what should be a movie set hoping you don’t get a flat tire on the torn up roads. I like a city with some grit to it. If you prefer fake stuff, go to Hilton Head, SC where the gas stations are concealed behind frippery.

Boaters and fisherfolk know Ancarrow’s Landing, and those who have done the somber and moving Richmond Slave Trail walk (which you can do 8:30 p.m. July 24th in a guided, torchlit walk led by Ralph White. Cost is $5. Call(804) 646-8911 to register), but most people never make it to this spot along the river.  It’s real Richmond. More about the Slave Trail in my next post.  At any rate, head back the way you came or take a right on Hull St. and head over the Mayo Bridge into Shockoe Slip and Bottom.  Empty on Sunday mornings.  Head west to the Manchester Bridge or further west to the Lee or Boulevard bridges–all depends if you want to be north or south for most of the return. It’s a more peaceful ride on a weekend than is necessarily good for a city that should have more people doing things downtown, but take the open road when you can get it.

I’m back!

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