Planning for Access

Hikers take in the view at PEC’s Piedmont Memorial Overlook. Photo by Marco Sánchez

As the onset of Covid-19 social-distancing coincided with beautiful spring weather, many Piedmont residents turned to natural areas, parks, trails and even rural roads, enjoying what we all know to be certain: these places sustain us, provide respite and serve as our oasis.

But as Piedmont Environmental Council President Chris Miller pointed out in a Virginia Mercury op-ed, something else became abundantly clear this spring: We need more, well-distributed public access to parks and green spaces all throughout the region.

Even without a pandemic, research shows that access to nature not only improves individual health, but also the health of our communities. These spaces are a key to thriving communities. Moms and dads, kids and dogs, friends and family, runners and walkers and bikers alike benefit from local public access to trails, parks, and open spaces, close to home. There are other co-benefits as well: improved water quality from forest buffers along streams and rivers, habitat for wildlife, and tree canopy that provides shade and reduces temperatures in urban areas.

PEC supporters are accessing many such places during this time, and we share with you their thoughts on why these green spaces are so critical:

Nora Seilheimer:

“This pandemic has turned our spring, typically a very busy time for a family with school-aged kids, into a time without schedules or places to be. Every weekend, we choose a different Albemarle County park to enjoy, like Mint Springs, Ragged Mountain, Walnut Creek, Bynum Preserve or Preddy Creek. For my family, it has been a great opportunity to be together, enjoy nature and get some exercise. We have all appreciated having so many options, all within a short drive or walk. We are thankful for the work of PEC and its partner organizations for advocating for more parks with greater connectivity within Charlottesville and Albemarle.”

Jimmy O’Connor:

“My home borders Sugarland Run Stream Valley Park in Loudoun County. Being nearby, I am easily able to go for a walk or mountain bike ride on the one-mile trail running the length of the park. This nearby access to the outdoors is important to me and my family, especially now that other places to be outside are not available. Being able to be move about outside, particularly along this shaded trail along a stream, is both mentally and physically rejuvenating. I can see the trail from my home office window and, based on the number of people using this trail, it is clear many others find benefit in this little local trail, too.”

Queta Bond:

“Sky Meadows has excellent trails from easy to difficult as well as a number of lovely vistas. One such trail is the Ambassador Whitehouse trail with informative PEC placards and a memorial to those that have played a role in saving scenic venues. The extensive acreage of this park can accommodate many hikers, as well as provide the ability to “social distance.” You can learn about chestnut tree recovery efforts, and there are several spaces/trails for children to learn about Virginia flora and fauna. The picnic tables and benches throughout the park provide spaces where a day out in the fresh air can be expanded into a restorative activity.”

Mary Root:

“During this pandemic, people living in and around Remington have taken to walking around Remington. There are lots of pleasant sights to see, and three Little Free Libraries and the Little Free Pantry to visit. We’re also seeing bicyclists from other areas taking advantage of our four on-road bike trails which begin and end in Remington’s downtown. Our downtown kiosk displays the bike trail map along with trail brochures and the historical walking tour. The Piedmont Environmental Council was a big help gaining these amenities, with strong backing for grants and many good ideas for implementation. It’s nice to live in a small town with a caring community, and we appreciate the PEC’s strong support.”

Winny Buursink:

“I have a great open space at home. With that I keep my sanity. As one of the volunteers responsible for the upkeep of the Arboretum in Rady Park, I get a lot of positive feedback from the folks that walk, jog, meditate, read a book, or meet friends in the park, and who clearly all need this open space. I am out there weeding and pruning so trees and plants are well taken care of. Making Rady Park, and especially the Arboretum, an inviting, relaxing and educational place gives me great satisfaction and motivates me to go to the park a couple of times a week.”

Missy Janes:

“Finding space where others are not and trying to stay closer to home, I walk the country roads. Thank goodness for the beautiful spring we have had and thank goodness for the peaceful beauty of conserved lands that flank many of our rural roads. I hope we can always keep them protected and work to provide more.”

October Greenfield:

“Having access to parks and open spaces, like Manassas National Battlefield, Sky Meadows, Merrimac Farm WMA or the Conway-Robinson State Forest, is vital for one’s mental and physical health. Sunshine and fresh air help me to decompress from everyday stress while getting exercise and appreciating the beauty of the small things around me. During the past few weeks, I have also greatly enjoyed watching people start to notice the birds and plants that often go unnoticed in their backyards.”

What about you? Are there parks, trails or greenways that have been vital to you during Covid-19? Email if you’d like to highlight one that has been particularly valuable to you or your family.

It’s important to remember that these places don’t happen by accident. Parks, open space, trails and greenways distributed throughout local communities must be a goal for each and every town and county comprehensive plan; they must also be a regular, committed area of local and state capital investment.

During this time of “social distancing,” please consider reaching out to your local elected officials to advocate with us for the creation, promotion, and protection of local, nearby parks and green spaces that you, your family and neighbors, and all in your community can easily access!

This article was featured in our Summer 2020 member newsletter, The Piedmont View.