New Riverside Park Stormwater Greenway project adds trails, wetland areas

HOPEWELL — By this summer, Riverside Park will have a whole new look.

Formerly called Jaycee Park, this recreation space once included pavilions and trails through the vast wooded wetland area that sits between what residents know now as Riverside Park and the Appomattox Cemetery.

Sometime in the 1960s or 1970s, Stormwater Program Manager Joe Battiata said, the natural space fell into disrepair.

“All of that infrastructure is gone,” Battiata said. “We have found pipes and things in there ... it became a trash dump, it became a preferred party location.”

And property owners were constantly calling the police for what they referred to as “squatters,” he said, “because they would pitch tents and be there all summer long.”

Not to mention the huge slabs of concrete rubble, possibly left behind after Route 10 construction, and the 50 or 100 abandoned tires that crews have removed from the site.

The Riverside Park Stormwater Greenway project is in the process of re-manicuring the space and adding walking trails back through the area. Plans are also in the works to add a boardwalk to the tidal wetland area nearest the marina.

This project could also improve the health of the Chesapeake Bay watershed.

“The project has created a unique opportunity to not only add recreational trails in a natural setting, but will also provide environmental education on the importance of stormwater management and how floodplains protect our rivers,” said Director of Recreation and Parks Aaron Reidmiller.

Indeed, signs along the boardwalk and throughout the park will label the types of plant life and explain to visitors the importance of the project’s ultimate goal: to reattach the stream that runs through the park back to its floodplain.

A floodplain is the area next to a river or stream that helps catch and slow down the water that descends into the river during a storm.

If a stream is not attached to its floodplain, the storm waters can reach great speeds and carve the stream channel deeper and wider, causing erosion issues and shuttling pollutants more quickly into the next body of water — in this case, the Appomattox and James Rivers, major tributaries of the Chesapeake Bay watershed.

This is exactly what’s happened with this stream since the development of Hopewell. For a long time, when it rained, 296 acres of urbanized land funnelled their water, trash and chemical runoff into this point at speeds that scoured the bare dirt sides.

This project builds a new, shallower channel for the stream to pass through, Battiata said, with stream features like rock crossvanes and log sills — structures that stabilize the body of water, directing it where to go and controlling how deep the waters can cut before spilling out into newly crafted wetland areas.

“If you have two fixed points, the stream won’t erode below those points because it’ll lose all its energy,” Battiata explained. “If it scours a hole, but has to come back up to get over the next crossvane, it’ll just hold water.”

The new wetland pockets, in several cases, sit where the stream used to flow. Crews have dug out spaces where overflow waters can pool, slowing the momentum of the water towards the rivers and allowing them to naturally filter out phosphorus, nitrogen and sediment.

There are also trash vaults that capture debris before it can flow down into the stream, and crews are building what’s known as a regenerative stormwater conveyance, which creates step-pools that filter water down through a sand and wood chip mixture.

This project was made possible by a number of grants, including a $1,274,233 award from the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality and matched dollar-for-dollar by the City of Hopewell, monies made available for the purpose of restoring the health of the Chesapeake Bay watershed.

The City also received $70,000 from the Chesapeake Bay Foundation and just recently secured another $450,000 from the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, which will help expand the project and add the boardwalk element.

“The attitude always was, ‘Water: just get it out of here as fast as possible,’” Battiata said of past stormwater philosophies. “‘Don’t worry about where it goes or what it does, just get it to the river.’ Everyone flushed their toilets to the river. All of that thought process now has put us in a different mindset.”

• Kate Gibson can be reached at kgibson@progress-index.com or 804-722-5162.