New Environmental Education Center Partners for Outside Experiential and Place-Based Learning in Henrico County
RICHMOND, VA – In the fall of 2022, Henrico County Public School (HCPS) students will make nature their classroom – on land protected by Capital Region Land Conservancy (CRLC). The School District announced the establishment of a new Center for Environmental Science and Sustainability anchored at Varina High School at a School Board meeting in August and entered into a memorandum of understanding with CRLC. Applications for the new program were accepted until January 10th.
The Center will provide students with a unique opportunity to expand their understanding of environmental stewardship through student-centered learning, community partnerships and foundational academic knowledge. The goals of the new Center are to utilize the broader community as a context for learning, encourage interdisciplinary instruction, incorporate experiential learning that fosters collaborative, creative and critical thinking skills, implement environmental service-learning projects, and to allow students to earn college credits and credentials. As one of several sites where students will have outdoor access, CRLC’s recently acquired 353 acres near Deep Bottom and Four Mile Creek will provide an environmentally and historically rich location with abundant opportunities for experiential and place-based learning.
“The innovative learning opportunities created by this partnership are boundless. CRLC’s property offers a rich landscape for hands-on learning about sustainability, environmental science and stewardship,” said Amy Cashwell, Superintendent of Henrico County Public Schools. “We are fortunate to have a visionary school board, board of supervisors and community partners who understand and embrace the immense possibilities when learning extends beyond the traditional classroom.”
CRLC Land Holdings LLC, a single-member, wholly owned subsidiary of Capital Region Land Conservancy, received the Deep Bottom property in May 2021 as the result of a generous donation from the prior landowner. The conservation easements protecting the property, recorded in 2017 and 2018, will remain enforced. The property boasts over 400 feet of frontage along the James River, 1.3 miles along Four Mile Creek, 3,700 feet along Roundabout Creek, and contains more than 75 acres of wetlands and riparian buffer within a resource protection zone. The land contains 173 acres of prime farmland and 57 acres of soils of statewide significance. Deep Bottom’s historical significance is equally impressive. There are documented historic resources associated with the Battles of First Deep Bottom, Second Deep Bottom and New Market Heights in which the U.S. Colored Troops fought. With all these values protected, CRLC’s land makes for a perfect campus to explore many of the great natural and historic resources of eastern Henrico County.
“While the property was already protected by conservation easements, taking ownership of it affords us a greater opportunity to enhance connections to the land through meaningful, site-specific immersive learning for our youth and the general public,” said Parker C. Agelasto, CRLC’s Executive Director.
Since August, CRLC has convened HCPS representatives along with representatives of Henrico Education Foundation, Henricopolis Soil & Water Conservation District, James River Association, National Park Service, Virginia Commonwealth University, Richmond Audubon Society, Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation, Virginia Department of Forestry to begin envisioning the possible educational uses of the property. Funding provided through the Upper and Middle James Riparian Consortium ($10,000) as well as the James River Buffer Program of the Virginia Department of Forestry ($22,000) has allowed CRLC to initiate the restoration of 9 acres of important forest buffer which will enhance water quality and habitat. Students could study these improvements in water quality, forest succession, native grass propagation, migratory bird breeding and stopover habitat, and more. These educational opportunities support the center’s goal for an integrated interdisciplinary approach to science, technology, and history.
“It feels good knowing that our work will enhance the riparian forest around the streams and river on the Deep Bottom property and will contribute to CRLC’s goals for nature-based education, especially around the role of trees in water quality protection” said Deya Ramsden, Middle James River Forest Watershed Project Coordinator for the Virginia Department of Forestry.
In addition to the work of the Advisory Group to support the educational initiatives of the new Center for Environmental Science and Sustainability anchored at Varina High School, CRLC is working on a land management plan for the property. Funding for the plan is provided in part by a $23,000 grant from the Chesapeake Bay Restoration Fund, a fund generated from the sale of Chesapeake Bay license plates at the Virginia Department of Motor Vehicles. The plan for the property will include the interpretation of the property’s historic resources, maintaining and/or improving the ecological health of the plant communities found there, and providing for quality recreational opportunities for the public that also educates them regarding the history and ecology of the site. The plan will promote healthy ecosystems and clean water mitigating threats to the various sensitive features of the property and. For example, the entire 353 acres fall within the National Audubon Society’s Lower James River Important Bird Area and with the right management goals can support many migratory species. Future public access for outdoor recreation may include camping, hiking, bird watching, orienteering, geocaching, and other potential uses which are compatible with ecological goals.
About Capital Region Land Conservancy (CRLC): Incorporated in March 2005 as a non-profit 501(c)(3) organization, CRLC seeks to conserve and protect the natural and historic land and water resources of Virginia’s Capital Region for the benefit of current and future generations. CRLC is the only non-profit organization devoted specifically to the conservation of land within the capital region serving the City of Richmond and the Counties of Charles City, Chesterfield, Goochland, Hanover, Henrico, New Kent, and Powhatan. CRLC educates landowners about voluntary land protection tools, facilitates the process of donating conservation easements, and holds or co- holds conservation easements. CRLC is accredited by the Land Trust Accreditation Commission, an independent program of the Land Trust Alliance. CRLC has helped protect more than 13,000 acres that includes fee simple ownership of 460 acres as well as easements on more than 2,300 acres.
For more information: Contact Parker C. Agelasto, Executive Director firstname.lastname@example.org