What started as an idea jotted on the back of paper napkin has resulted in a $35,000 proactive grant from John Randolph Foundation (Ursula M. Gibbs Memorial Endowment) to Friends of the Lower Appomattox River (FOLAR) to support its current challenge grant effort for the Appomattox River Trail’s vital western entrance spanning Dinwiddie and Chesterfield Counties and the City of Petersburg. With this gift, FOLAR has secured 90% of the required match to receive a $500,000 grant from The Cabell Foundation.
PHOTO ABOVE: John Randolph Foundation trustees and staff stopped at the University Blvd Trailhead in Petersburg on their tour of the 25-mile Appomattox River Trail. Special thanks to Aaron Reidmiller, Director of Hopewell Recreation & Parks, for providing shuttle transportation for the tour.
This regional project brings together many partners and comprises three main elements: the construction of a new bridge over the river from Ferndale Park in Dinwiddie County to John J. Radcliffe Conservation Area in Chesterfield County; the renovation of the historic Ferndale/Appomattox Riverside Park; and improving over two miles of historic canal trail and riverside trail east toward Petersburg. The investment by the John Randolph Foundation (JRF) in this project will last through generations since the park’s 160 acres are permanently protected for public recreational use.
The impact that the Appomattox River Trail System will have on the Tri-Cities region aligns with many of the Foundation’s strategic goals: improving mental and physical wellness, creating active communities, and providing a platform for more youth programming and education. The river also connects much of the Foundation’s service area, flowing from Lake Chesdin through the counties of Chesterfield, Dinwiddie and Prince George, and the cities of Petersburg, Colonial Heights, and Hopewell, where the Appomattox and James Rivers meet.
“Yes, it all started on the back of a napkin,” Kevin Foster, JRF Director of Programs, recently reminisced. The partnership between the Foundation and FOLAR began in 2016 over lunch with Foster; Lisa Sharpe, JRF’s Executive Director; Johnny Partin and Wayne Walton, then members of FOLAR’s Board; and Wendy Austin, FOLAR’s Executive Director. The Foundation’s investment since then has primarily provided capacity building, turning a volunteer-driven organization into an expert trail-building, river-stewarding team that is helping bring millions of dollars to advance the projects and communities it serves. This proactive grant from the John Randolph Foundation brings the Foundation’s investment in FOLAR to $257,300.
Recently, JRF’s Board of Trustees joined FOLAR staff and Chairman Sam Hayes on a guided tour of all 25 miles of the Appomattox River Trail System, from Hopewell to the Brasfield Dam at Lake Chesdin. The tour highlighted the sections that are coming soon as well as the importance of regional wayfinding signage. “We’ve found that many people who have lived in the area all their lives are not aware of the 16 public riverside parks available for their enjoyment—all of which FOLAR helped create or help maintain,” said FOLAR Director Austin.
“I am blown away by the beauty of the river. I just never knew,” said says Mattie Thweatt, a new JRF trustee and the Associate Director of School Administration at Prince George County Public Schools. “We’re always Googling activities for things to do, but we’ve got so much to explore right here!”
The Foundation’s support of FOLAR ensures that all people, and especially children, have safe and welcoming access to the river, to nature, and to outdoor recreational activities. “I want our children to know about this river and trail,” said Sharpe, Executive Director at JRF for the past 17 years. “Children need that outlet—to get outside, to get active, to explore their own community.”
“We are excited to be able to leverage this support from the John Randolph Foundation to help move us closer to achieving the challenge grant and bring this project to a transformational scale for our region,” stated Sam Hayes, FOLAR’s Chairman of the Board. “Through philanthropic support, in combination with the collaboration of our other partners and strong grassroots participation we are protecting our natural resources while making this one of the best places to live in Virginia.”
FOLAR representatives accept a $35,000 proactive grant at John Randolph Foundation in front of a portrait of the grant’s benefactor, the late Ursula “Sue” Gibbs. From left: Wendy Austin, Executive Director; Heather Barrar, Regional Trails Program Director; Kiffy Werkheiser, Development Director, and Sam Hayes, Board Chairman.
About John Randolph Foundation
John Randolph Foundation is the only community foundation serving the Tri-Cities area and working to build healthy communities and bright futures. Since 1995, the Foundation has invested more than $25 million in the community through grants and endowments and scholarships. FOLAR established the Environmental Stewardship Scholarship Program in 2017 to fuel the passion of young people committed to protecting and preserving our environment for current and future generations. FOLAR was also the first recipient of the Tri-Cities Environmental Endowment Fund 2021. The grant helped create the native plant garden at University Boulevard Trailhead in Petersburg. To learn more about JRF, visit johnrandolphfoundation.org or call 804-458-2239.
About Friends of the Lower Appomattox River
Friends of the Lower Appomattox River (FOLAR) is the only regional organization in the Tri-Cities and surrounding counties dedicated to conserving and protecting the natural, cultural, and recreational resources along the Lower Appomattox River. FOLAR has served the region as a registered 501c3 nonprofit organization since 2001 with a focus of working in partnership with community members to create a protected blueway and greenway system along the 25-mile long, 4,720-acre river corridor, and to establish the Appomattox River Trail system.