A former de facto dumping ground in the city’s North Side that’s now a paved trail welcoming cyclists and pedestrians was named Friday for the man who helped transform it.
City officials and community members gathered at the site of the former Dove Street Armory to unveil an honorary trail sign for Charles Price, a retired educator and former Sierra Club of Virginia president who breathed life into the Cannon Creek Greenway.
“When I say he’s the mayor of North Highland Park, I mean that. He’s been dedicated to providing us with something that we don’t have in most neighborhoods,” 6th District Councilwoman Ellen Robertson said of Price. “It would not be here today ... if it weren’t for him.”
Price, who turns 82 next month, said he thought it was important to help the community because it didn’t have the same quality of recreational facilities and amenities as in other parts of the city. He also said he thought it was important to keep the road open, as it was once an important path for county farmers in the early 19th century who would sell their produce and goods downtown.
“This is a real honor,” he said. “To get good amenities in your neighborhood, you need good leadership and labor to get these things done.”
The trail is about 1.75 miles long and extends from East Brookland Park Boulevard south to Valley Road along the Richmond-Henrico Turnpike. The paved path is 10 feet wide and separate from the road, snaking through a wooded environment in the city.
The trail’s official name, which will remain, is a reference to an above-ground creek that the city channeled into a stormwater pipe about 40 years ago.
Robertson originally introduced the City Council ordinance almost two years to give the trail an the honorary title for Price.
She said she considered trying to close the turnpike to traffic early in her City Council career about 17 years ago to keep people from dumping their trash in a ravine alongside the road. But Price and others objected, suggesting that the community could work with the city and other partners to restore and improve the area instead, she said.
After several years of working with the surrounding neighborhoods to keep the ravine free of discarded tires, debris and other rubbish, he worked with the National Guard and local politicians to begin development on the trail, which first opened in 2012.
Noticing that many of the residents in the area did not have cars, he said he thought the development of a trail and bike lanes between the Highland Park area and downtown could help facilitate travel and create an opportunity to beautify the area.
The project was no easy feat. The city needed to apply for a program for the National Guard to use its engineers to clear brush and build part of the trail. There was also the labor volunteers put into cleaning the site. Over the course of two cleanups, volunteers from the community removed 20 metric tons of trash from the ravine, Price said.
The trail is now a popular amenity in a part of the city that suffered from disinvestment for decades and has started to transform.
With the development come concerns about gentrification and the displacement of longtime residents.
Robertson, however, said the city’s been working with private developers and the Richmond Redevelopment and Housing Authority to create more affordable housing in the next phase of the Highland Grove development project.
Community members at Friday’s ceremony commended Price for bringing together residents, the city government, inmates from the jail and the National Guard to create the trail.
Raymond Turner, who moved into the Highland Park neighborhood in the mid-1960s, said he saw many of its residents leave in subsequent decades, leading to neglect and abandonment. He said the work Price and others did to clean the area and create the trail helped usher a new era for the community.
“These are amenities you can’t put a price on. You can get up in the morning, get on your bicycle or take a walk down here. It’s open and people feel safe,” he said. “It’s a whole different world.”
Harris Wheeler, a horticulturist and former educator, and John Harris, a city parks employee, have both been involved in maintaining the landscaping around the trail, working with people incarcerated at the city jail. They said Price’s advocacy also helped create opportunities for people to learn new skills as they prepare to leave jail.
“There was a lot of sweat equity put into this. It shows what a community can do when you have people who are dedicated and have a vision,” Wheeler said. “I wouldn’t have worked on this if I wasn’t convinced that what he was doing was a worthwhile project.”