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Park Volunteers Continue Work While Social Distancing

Woman and children removing invasive plants
Certified Virginia Master Naturalist Laura Greenleaf removing invasives from the James River Park System. (Photo: Crixell Matthews/VPM News)

Even as the COVID-19 pandemic upends daily life, dedicated volunteers continue their fight against invasive plants in the James River Park System. Although they’ve had to make adjustments to limit coronavirus exposure risks, they say they can’t stop their work now.

Laura Greenleaf is a member of the Invasive Plant Task Force's steering committee who leads their activities at Pony Pasture Trail on the Southside. Spring is a key time for fighting invasive plants. Greenleaf says, “You can’t step away from it… this is a time of year when we are normally going to be actively engaged in invasive management in specific areas.”

At a recent workday on Belle Isle, Errin Sullivan and her daughters took part in clearing a swath of invasive English ivy from an old retaining wall. She says the work has been a great way to get out of the house while adhering to social distancing. “My two daughters came with me, and we brought our own shovel so Laura [Greenleaf] could explain to us what to do but we all didn’t have to be in each other's face,” Sullivan said.

Sullivan is a fourth grade teacher at Good Shepherd Episcopal School in Forest Hill, and she says the parks have been a great educational resource: “We have an outdoor education program and we get to use the James River Park System on a weekly basis, so I also value the park through that.”

While the group is continuing to clear out damaging invasive plants, Greenleaf says they’ve scaled back to comply with public health directives. “We are not arranging and scheduling large volunteer opportunities,” she said. “We are not planning any publicly open volunteer opportunities, so we would only be working in groups of under ten people and probably fewer than that.”

Although businesses and other city parks are closed, visitors are still welcome to enjoy the restored native habitats along the James River - just be sure to maintain social distancing.

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