A great experiment

Published 9:01 pm Tuesday, May 26, 2015

When Suffolk’s elected officials talk about what makes the city such a great place to live — as at the recent State of the City luncheon held by the Hampton Roads Chamber of Commerce — one is likely to hear about Forbes magazine’s listing of the city among the top 100 small cities in the U.S. to call home, about great fiscal management and, especially lately, about Suffolk’s AAA credit rating from Standard and Poor’s.

All those things are laudable, and they’re surely worthy of sharing with the world, but in the aggregate they tend to give the impression that Suffolk’s government is what makes it special.

Ask any random citizen why they love Suffolk, and you’re likely to get a host of different answers. What those answers likely will have in common, however, is that they lack reference to the city’s governing body. This is not to say that all or even most folks in Suffolk have negative feelings about their elected officials. Rather it points to a common recognition outside of City Hall that there are so many other things that make the city unique and special.

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Among those things are the people who work behind the scenes to make the city run well. Suffolk is blessed with a topnotch cadre of professionals and blue-collar workers who get up every day and labor in ways that hardly ever are publicized to keep the city beautiful and to ensure that trash is picked up, that students learn, that parks and libraries provide an edifying experience, that crime rates remain low, that people and property are kept safe, that streets are maintained and that so many other little things are taken care of so people can live comfortably here.

One such unsung hero is J.R. Ruggiero, a park ranger at Lone Star Lakes Park. Ruggiero and other employees there have embarked on a plan to reintroduce longleaf pines to this part of the state. At one time, this species of tree was ubiquitous in Virginia, but its long, straight trunk was coveted for ships’ masts and lumber, and it was harvested to near-extinction in the area.

Ruggiero’s 13-acre nursery at Lone Star Lakes, funded by a matching grant from the city and Virginia Trees for Clean Water, is an experiment in reforestation and an exciting example of the kind of work that can be done when good employees are given the opportunity to pursue their dreams.

The experiment is also one of those great things about Suffolk that city officials should spend more time talking about.