Major projects like these have helped us restore miles of polluted river bottom, shoreline, and wildlife habitat. But we’ve still got miles to go. Do Something Beautiful. Join the Elizabeth River Project.
A troubled tributary finds new life beyond our wildest imagination
Reaching 2.6 miles into Portsmouth from the Elizabeth River’s Southern Branch, Paradise Creek was no paradise at all. With naval landfills, metal scrap yards and industrial sites on one side, and residential Portsmouth on the other, Paradise Creek had become one of the most polluted and contaminated areas in the Elizabeth River watershed. Decades of abuse had accumulated on the creek’s floor – a thick, toxic stew of sandblast grit, iron and metal, with high concentrations of copper, lead, nickel, zinc, mercury, cobalt, chromium, pesticides and PCBs. The foundation of the Creek’s food chain had been wiped out. Six different areas had been designated federal “Superfund” sites. And in 2001, a team of Old Dominion University researchers concluded that two worms made up 86 percent of the life in the creek bottom. Two worms.
Inspired by the Navy’s Multimillion-dollar removal of “black beauty” sandblast grit from the Creek’s headwaters in 2001, the Elizabeth River Project saw hope in Paradise Creek. There, we saw a microcosm of the challenges facing the rest of the river. To bring the river back to health, we brought together more than 50 of the Creek’s biggest stakeholders – industrial landowners and university researchers, technical advisors, government regulatory agencies, residents, civic leagues, schools and the Navy. Together, the group created a rescue plan as massive as the problem we faced, guiding us as we secured the funding and technical support to dredge tons of toxic sediment from the creek bottom, restore lost wetlands and wildlife habitat, and protect one of the last mature forests found anywhere on the Elizabeth River.
Cleaning up decades of abuse on Paradise Creek was never enough. The stakeholder team’s ultimate goal was to create a place where nature, industry and human activity could peacefully coexist. We’ve done just that. Today, more than 20 restoration projects have been completed along Paradise Creek, including the creation of Paradise Creek Nature Park, opened by the Elizabeth River Project and the City of Portsmouth as the city’s third largest public park in December 2012. Other Paradise Creek restoration projects may sit out of the public view, but they’ve been no less impactful on the creek’s future. As throughout the Elizabeth River, there’s still so much left to do. Thanks for your continued support.
From the start, Paradise Creek’s stakeholders knew that increasing public access would be key to the Creek’s long-term stewardship. Our goal was to create a public park where residents could enjoy safe access to the same creek where many area residents had played – illegally and unsafely – as kids. We found just the spot: An aging boatyard that was up for sale, with a dense patch of native forest right next to it known as “The Mudflats.”
To buy the land, the Elizabeth River Project raised $1.4 million, and convinced generous donors and private partners to contribute another $4.5 million more to design and build today’s 40-acre public Paradise Creek Nature Park. The Port of Virginia, meanwhile, removed 300,000 cubic yards of dredge spoils from the creek to create the park’s signature 11-acre wetland, an area fully open to the public with a handicap-accessible launch for kayaks and canoes. The City of Portsmouth had looked for decades to build a public park in this quadrant of the city. Now, Paradise Creek Nature Park is its third largest public park, and a welcoming place for student field trips, birdwatching, hiking, paddling, environmental education and relaxing. Paradise Creek also serves as a living, breathing reminder of how much people, government and business can accomplish when they work together.