Paradise Found

Published 10:40 pm Tuesday, May 15, 2018

We’re always looking for interesting places for our nature walks within a short distance from our home. Recently, we discovered the Paradise Creek Nature Park. I have a little bit of history with Paradise Creek from my childhood growing up in the Cradock neighborhood of Portsmouth. We just called it the mud flats then. It was basically a little strip of tidal marsh land on the Elizabeth River that bordered some pretty bleak-looking industrial operations and the Navy yard.

As a young girl this was a forbidden place for me, but my brother and his best friend would crab or take the family dog “hunting” and otherwise practice their “outdoor skills” on those mud flats. They would both later become very skilled outdoorsmen. We have joked looking back at those years at how huge those crabs were, but that they probably glowed in the dark and we are pretty lucky that we don’t glow in the dark, too. Let’s just say it was far from a pristine environment back in the ‘60s.

Paradise Creek was not just your run-of-the-mill polluted area. It was severely contaminated — not just a “Superfund” site but a “multiple Superfund” — a worst-of-the-worst as identified by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. In its clean-up effort, the port authority removed 300,000 cubic yards of dredge spoils that formed our little mud flat and restored it to a healthy tidal wetland. This project was so successful that the park won both the U.S. Navy and the Elizabeth River Project a White House award.

The Elizabeth River Project and the City of Portsmouth opened Paradise Creek Nature Park to the public in December 2012, as Portsmouth’s third largest public park and the Elizabeth River Project’s signature outdoor field station for exploring firsthand what you can do to restore an urban river to health. The Port of Virginia created the park’s signature 11 acres of wetlands. It is the largest restored wetland in the area and is open to the public. It has a beautiful walking trail through native plants that goes to a state-of-the-art launch for canoeing or kayaking.

While we were there walking recently, we saw a lot of the energy that is still going into education and public access that is so important to the long-term health to the creek. We were greeted by the park ranger and a group that were planting native plants, then we met a team of park educators that had just finished an educational session with a school group from Chesapeake. We asked them if there was one thing they would like our readers to know about their work. They unanimously said, “Paradise Creek Park is an urban oasis.” Urban kids rarely get outdoors and even more rarely get to see a natural environment that is attractive, instructive and welcoming. Paradise Creek is a park for bird lovers, plant lovers, walkers and paddlers. Even art lovers will enjoy the trail’s sculptures that have an industrial edginess juxtaposed with the natural environment. We sure were impressed.

Susan and Bradford “Biff” Andrews are retired teachers and master naturalists who have been outdoor people all their lives, exploring and enjoying the woods, swamps, rivers and beaches throughout the region for many years. Email them at b.andrews22@live.com.