With so much going on around us that we cannot control, doing what we can to make our part of the world better becomes all the more important.
This past spring, our staff made a quick and orderly transition to remote work, operating off a solid platform of online resources, laptops, smartphones, and most importantly, a network of partners and relationships that allow us to be effective observers and active participants in our communities. Continuing full operations, with the support of PEC members and our Board, has provided a remarkable and deeply appreciated source of stability in an otherwise crazy world.
As we move into summer, PEC staff have redoubled our efforts around four key areas that are particularly relevant right now:
- Investing in local parks, trails and open space
- Strengthening our local food systems and supply chains
- Enabling civic engagement and providing civic leadership
- Acting on conservation opportunities
During the period when Shenandoah National Park and other federal lands were closed for recreation, along with many private facilities, local parks and trails were a critical resource throughout our region. Sky Meadows State Park and PEC’s adjacent Piedmont Memorial Overlook have seen visitation increase dramatically. Trails along the John Warner Parkway in Charlottesville and Albemarle have experienced a four-fold increase in use. We are excited to be working on several projects across the region to increase public access to nature and open space. And we will continue pushing for local parks, trails and greenways as a goal of every town and county comprehensive plan, as well as a committed area of local and state investment.
Similarly, the need for fresh, local food has become even more evident. Food pantries traditionally rely on surplus from supermarkets and restaurants, and many families rely on school lunches and other programs. With many of these sources unavailable due to Covid-19, PEC is responding in a number of ways, including expanding production at our Community Farm at Roundabout Meadows and fundraising to purchase milk produced by local dairies for donation to local food pantries. Long term, our hope is that the network of farms, stores, farm markets and restaurants in the Buy Fresh Buy Local network will have an expanded role in food supply for our communities.
Meanwhile, we continue tracking and weighing in on local, regional and state actions that impact the environment and quality of life close to home, like rezoning and land development applications, as well as changes to conservation and restoration programs and funding. In place of in-person meetings and events, our staff have moved swiftly to embrace online platforms to educate, engage and empower Piedmont residents. One example: our recent webinar on Green Infrastructure Options for HOA Common Areas sold out, with 300 registrants, all eager to learn more about what can be done to improve stormwater management in their community.
Finally, I would be remiss if I didn’t address what’s happening in our country on the subject of racial equity and justice and the clear need for systemic change.
At PEC, we often say that “the beautiful places we love don’t happen by accident;” they take perseverance, careful planning, and conscious prioritizing at every level. Justice and equality for all—though they should be inherent, inalienable and unmistakable—require the same perseverance and thoughtful intent, and they must be incorporated into everything we do.
As an organization whose basic mission is to protect the environment and improve the quality of life for everyone in our region, we haven’t done enough to ensure our work is inclusive. We need to closely reexamine the ways in which we address institutional racism and recommit ourselves to listening to and supporting those voices that have been marginalized.
As we said in the statement posted on our website, I truly believe that together, we can shape a better future and build stronger communities that provide equal opportunity for access to nature and a healthy environment. The beauty of the Virginia Piedmont lies not only in our lands, but also in the hearts of our community members, our ability and resolve to come together to empathize and support one another, and our moral fortitude and willingness to stand up for what is right and just.
Chis Miller, President
The Piedmont Environmental Council