Invasive Plant Task Force - James River Park System

Description and purpose

The vision of the JRPS Invasive Plant Task Force is a healthy and resilient James River Park System where native plants predominate.

The mission of the JRPS Invasive Plant Task Force is to foster a thriving park ecosystem through invasive plant species management, restoration of native plant communities, public awareness and citizen involvement.

Poster at Belle IslandRichmonders love their river and its park system. Local residents and visitors alike recognize that our city has something special in its nearly 600 acre linear park along the James River. But many of us on the water or on the trails from Chapel Island to Huguenot Flatwater overlook the greatest threat to this urban gem: the invasive vines, shrubs, and trees that are engulfing its woods, wetlands, and meadows.

For years park system management and dedicated nonprofits and their volunteers have tackled invasive infestations in piecemeal restoration projects, but the scale of the problem has been overwhelming.  In early 2015, volunteers from two of those organizations hatched the idea for a coalition of organizations that would merge their shared goals and resources into a strategic, long term plan for invasive management and restoration ecology in the park. 

A dozen stakeholders came together to form the James River Park System Invasive Task Force at the same time that the private consulting firm Vanasse Hangen Brustlin, Inc. (VHB) proposed the development of a management and restoration plan informed by a data-driven baseline study that will guide invasive plant species control  in the JRPS. VHB specializes in urban park restoration and brings to the table the experience and expertise of professional environmental scientists who share the Task Force’s devotion to the health of our park system. With the leadership of JRPS manager Nathan Burrell and the support of Friends of James River Park, the Task Force and VHB partnership began the work of a fresh approach to the park’s most pernicious challenge.

Focus Project Areas

Task Force members have adopted the following areas and lead work site efforts there.

  • Belle Isle (Richmond Tree Stewards – Catherine Farmer)
  • Pony Pasture (Riverine Chapter of VA Master Naturalists – Laura Greenleaf & Emily Gianfortoni)
  • Chapel Island (James River Association – Amber Ellis)
  • Huguenot Flatwater (James River Park System)
  • Texas Beach (Mary and George Wickham)
  • Heritage Half Acre, Reedy Creek – Lee Bridge Study Area (Virginia DCR – Natural Heritage, Rob Evans)
  • Reedy Creek (James River Park System)
  • Buttermilk Trail West (Anne Wright, VCU Center for Environmental Studies & Madge Bemiss, Capital Trees)
  • Wetlands (Task Force with professional support)

Project Timeline

Stage 1: Project Initiation (completed)

In June 2015, JRPS staff and VHB carefully reviewed existing park boundaries, units, and public interests. They used this information to determine study areas and management units to  use when surveying invasive species.

Stage 2: Invasive Plant Inventory (completed)

During the summer of 2015, several Task Force member organizations adopted study areas (i.e. Huguenot Flatwater, Chapel Island, etc.). Each group recruited volunteers who participated in VHB-sponsored training in survey methodology (approximately 70 volunteers attended training sessions).  These lead Task Force members then organized volunteer teams to complete on-the-ground surveys of each management unit in their assigned section of the park system.  The result is a park system-wide complete inventory of invasive species, their locations, and the extent of their cover, as well as anecdotal data on communities of native plants and areas of high priority for protection. 

Stage 3: Implementation of Control Measures

The plan will be completed by March 2016 when the Task Force, JRPS staff, and VHB will collaborate to set priorities and strategize methods to implement invasive species control measures. 

Stage 4: Reporting and Monitoring

After treatment efforts have started, VHB, the Task Force, and JRPS staff will assess the conditions of the study areas to see what’s working and what’s not.