Cold doesn’t stop NRPA volunteers

Published 10:31 pm Monday, February 11, 2019

Dozens of volunteers from various organizations and schools met at Sleepy Hole Park in the cold, breezy Saturday morning for another year of preserving and protecting the Nansemond River.

The Nansemond River Preservation Alliance gathered 50 volunteers for a quarterly maintenance project on the riparian buffer and native plant arboretum by the Sleepy Hole Park pier. Bundled-up volunteers pruned branches, relocated trees and spread mulch, while high school students collected trash throughout the park.

Among those students were King’s Fork High School ecology club and band members. There were also Virginia Master Naturalists, Suffolk Master Gardeners and representatives from the Junto Woman’s Club. Boy Scouts of America Troop 16 in Driver was also represented.

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“It’s just a wonderful opportunity for the community to come together and help preserve and protect our waterways,” said Elizabeth Taraski, NRPA chief executive officer and president.

The NRPA was established nine years ago to help preserve and protect local waterways. The organization now has roughly 350 participants engaged in projects across the city, such as the demonstration site at Sleepy Hole Park, Taraski said.

Native plants, trees and shrubs were first brought to this Sleepy Hole site three years ago to act as a buffer against stormwater runoff.

“When you have rainfall events, if you don’t have trees or shrubs, the rainwater then just flows directly into the waterways and just takes everything with it,” Taraski said. “It’s really not healthy for the waterways.”

The site has grown over the years with more native plants and other additions. Benches were built as community service projects for visitors to relax and enjoy the greenery by the river. There are also plans to install a walkway through the arboretum, Taraski said.

There have been approximately 5,500 trees and shrubs planted at the site over the past three years, she said. Volunteers took inventory of the plants that survived the winter and those that didn’t in order to plan for more planting.

It helps that native plants such as these are generally resilient.

“They’re also a habitat for birds and other wildlife,” Taraski said.

Some of the volunteers on Saturday had been assisting since the project began, including Haleigh Wilson, a freshman at Virginia Commonwealth University. She said it’s “exciting” to see how far the site has come since her family first came out.

“It’s very exciting, honestly,” she said. “I’m sure around here there’s a tree that I planted that I really want to go find today and see how it’s grown.”

She and her family come out at least once a year to help. It’s a family thing for her, but it’s also about being part of the Suffolk community while preserving the environment.

There were many that came out to do the same on Saturday, but she said the community participation shouldn’t surprise her anymore.

“It definitely motivates me to continue working and come back again and again to continue the project.”