South Side woodland to be turned over to city for possible parkland, trails

Jeremy M. Lazarus | 12/3/2020, 6 p.m.
South Side is gaining 13 additional acres of parkland as a gift from the land’s current owners, it has been …
Mr. Agelasto

South Side is gaining 13 additional acres of parkland as a gift from the land’s current owners, it has been announced.

The donation of the wooded property along Grindall Creek near Thomas C. Boushall Middle School is from the family of the late developer Somers M. Wilton, it has been announced.

The family recently transferred the property, between Greer Avenue, Vial Road and the creek to the Capital Region Land Conservancy, which plans to turn it over to the city.

Parker C. Agelasto, executive director of the conservancy and a former City Council member, stated that his organization and the city would work together to solicit “community input on the proposed future uses of the property.”

Mr. Agelasto envisions the land remaining largely natural, but including walking trails and providing a setting for students at Boushall Middle School to learn about watersheds and the environment. But he stated the community would need to support that.

The new parkland, a rare private gift, would add to the five new South Side parks comprising 31 acres that Mayor Levar M. Stoney proposed in late September and which the council approved.

In all, about 2,300 acres of land in Richmond are held in parks, or about 6 percent of the city’s 62 square miles, which the mayor and park advocates hope to increase over time.

The new parkland has been part of the Wilton family holdings since 1965 and represents the residue of land from development of the Deerbourne and Walmsley neighborhoods in what was then Chesterfield County before its annexation to the city in 1970.

Mr. Agelasto noted the city had long targeted the 13 acres located near Warwick Road for home building while also labeling a portion as being a resource protection area given its trees and the Grindall Creek wetlands it includes.

Development of the property proved challenging given the restrictions of the Chesapeake Bay Act and the environmental protection standards that would need to be met, Mr. Agelasto stated.

Speaking for the family, Barry Wilton called it “an honor” to take action to enhance the communities his father built more than 50 years ago.

Mayor Stoney, who has set a goal of putting a park within a 10-minute walk of every resident, praised the Wilton family for helping the city meet that goal.

According to Mr. Agelasto, 1,145 people live within a 10-minute walk of the property, of whom 71 percent are African-American. About half the area’s population is listed as lower-income, according to census data.

“The Deerbourne and Walmsley neighborhoods are thankful that this part of the community will be preserved and opened for their use,” stated 8th District Councilwoman Reva M. Trammell. “It will be among the first parks added to the 8th District since this area was incorporated into the city,” she stated.

Mr. Agelasto stated that the conservancy welcomes the opportunity to be involved in facilitating the development of what he hopes “will be first of many new park areas for residents in previously under- served communities. We look forward to discussing other gifts of land that meet the strategic goals for parks, open space and green infrastructure.”