Portsmouth – The Virginia Port Authority, the Elizabeth River Project (ERP) and the City of Portsmouth on Thursday broke ground on one the region's most ambitious environmental projects: the restoration of Paradise Creek and creation of a park along the waterway.
The VPA, ERP and city are partners in the effort to create an urban nature park on the Southern Branch of the Elizabeth River. Paradise Creek Nature Park, a $14 million, two-phase project slated for completion in 2015, is the cornerstone of a dramatic turnaround for one the most polluted areas in the United States.
The focal point of the 40-acre park will be the construction of an 11-acre, $4 million wetland that restores a portion of the former creek bed that was filled in during the last century. About eight years ago the VPA committed to the project, with its emphasis on restoring the wetlands that once existed along the creek.
"This is one of many such projects we'll be dedicating resources to over the coming years," said Heather Wood, the VPA's environmental affairs director. "The Paradise Creek project is part of a larger, $60 million environmental mitigation plan that is tied to the Craney Island eastward expansion project. The environmental impact of that project (Craney Island) has to be offset and we'll be focusing on projects throughout the region. When and where possible, we'll be partnering with ERP and the US Army Corps of Engineers throughout the process."
The Elizabeth River Project, through the support of donors including the VPA, bought the waterfront property and is constructing amenities that will include landscaping with native plants, two miles of trails, 'green' parking and access roads, an 'earthworks sculpture' and educational signage. The City of Portsmouth will operate the site as its only public park targeting the outdoor enthusiast, and in 2015 will accept ownership.
"Urban parks are in a renaissance world-wide," said Marjorie Mayfield Jackson, the ERP's executive director. "More than 30 studies have shown that parks have a positive impact on nearby property values, can calm crime, and access to nature increases a child's ability to concentrate."
Phase I of Paradise Creek Nature Park began in January when the VPA began excavating the 11 acres of new wetland and ERP began restoration landscaping; work on the trails and access roads is scheduled to start in April. Phase I is scheduled to be open to the public by the end of this year; Phase II, by 2015.