By Daniel White
I’m running late, quite literally. In less than an hour, I’m supposed to be at Charlottesville’s Greenbrier Park for an event celebrating the completed restoration of Meadow Creek.
But the dogs had been sighing at the window all morning and giving me those sad eyes that clearly said, “Can’t we please go run in the rain?” So here I am, leading (at times) a sopping-wet, mud-slinging dash along an entirely different section of the Rivanna Trail.
It is Saturday, after all, and it’s not just the dogs who needed a morning of running wild. I’ve come to realize that this particular strip of urban nature may wrap around our neighborhood, but in many ways it’s our lives that revolve around it.
With perhaps a minute to spare, I join the gathering next to the pedestrian bridge in Greenbrier Park. A gentle drizzle patters on an assortment of brightly colored umbrellas.
Under these hand-held shelters stands an assortment of my Nature Conservancy colleagues, city staff and other restoration partners, Greenbrier neighbors, and local VIPs, including Mayor Satyendra Huja and Delegate David Toscano.
Kicking off the remarks and thanking everyone involved are Kristel Riddervold, environmental administrator for the city; Diane Frisbee, who managed the project for the Conservancy; and Brian Daly, director of Charlottesville’s Parks & Recreation Department.
Mayor Huja steps up next, noting that future generations will inherit a legacy of good stewardship rather than another environmental problem. He also credits the restored Meadow Creek as an enhancement to quality of life in the city.
Delegate Toscano then draws a broader connection to water quality in the Chesapeake Bay watershed, describing Meadow Creek as an example to inspire other Virginia communities. “These projects, if they’re taken together, add up to a substantial impact on the bay,” Toscano says.
Adding a natural twist on the traditional ribbon cutting, the local officials and restoration partners line up along the stream bank to apply loppers to a large vine. With this symbolic de-vining moment, the adjacent trails are declared officially open.
My shoes are still damp as I prepare to hit the trail again. This time I’ve coaxed a friend into joining me for an after-work “trial run” to take in the entire restoration area.
It’s the Monday evening following the event, and we decide to start from the opposite end, where the restoration began. Here near the Hydraulic Road bridge is also where my eyes were first opened to what a basket case this stretch of stream had been just over a year ago.
Now that near-wasteland has become an oasis for wildlife and runners alike. We encounter both, as well as a strolling family, but thankfully the wildlife have us outnumbered.
Songbirds and squirrels abound, two mallard ducks alight on the water just beyond the Greenbrier bridge, and at the turnaround point, an obviously well-fed toad squats in a tree cavity.
I try to keep count of the white-tailed deer we see by twos and threes, but lose track at a dozen. I’ll blame my lapse in concentration on deer number 12, which stood its ground and screamed at us. Yes, screamed — like those infamous internet goats.
Back at the car after an out-and-back 5K, I know I’ll be back soon to see for myself how life continues to return to this rejuvenated stream. I know I won’t be alone.
You can find street parking and easy access to the restored sections of the Rivanna Trail and Meadow Creek at these points, starting upstream:
The Rivanna Trail practically encircles Charlottesville. Add the connecting trails and spurs like the one in my neighborhood, and the possibilities for extended hikes or runs — not to mention wildlife sightings — are nearly endless.
So don’t just stare wistfully out your window, or do all your bird watching on the Downtown Mall. Find a trailhead, feel the earth beneath your feet and maybe even splash through some puddles. Just be on the lookout for that screaming deer.
You’re invited to travel along as we explore our region's top nature destinations and conservation stories. Discover these special places and meet the people who are protecting and restoring nature.December 10, 2013
Daniel White is a Conservancy senior writer based in Charlottesville and a correspondent for Passport to Nature.