After removing more than 20,000 square feet of pavement, a Richmond church last Saturday joined the Chesapeake Bay Foundation (CBF) in reforesting areas once covered by asphalt and concrete. Earlier this year, CBF worked with Branch’s Baptist Church to remove pavement from an unused section of its parking lot and a deteriorating basketball court, a project detailed at this link.
Last Saturday, volunteers joined CBF in planting 30 native trees, capping off a major effort that looks to nature for solutions. The project at Branch’s Baptist Church is an important test case, piloting efforts to remove asphalt and concrete and enrich the underlying soil to reforest formerly paved areas.
“This groundbreaking work at Branch’s Baptist is part of a larger effort to tackle Richmond’s heat islands and reduce polluted runoff to the James River,” said Ann Jurczyk, CBF Virginia Director of Outreach and Advocacy. “We’re reforesting an area that was once a basketball court. These trees will be a major benefit to communities. Our partner Southside ReLeaf just hosted a tree giveaway for residents at the Southside Community Center.”
The trees planted will expand the nearby forest, beautify church grounds, reduce polluted runoff, and provide relief from extreme heat in the summertime. Research shows that paved-over, treeless stretches of Richmond, including in Southside, can be up to 16 degrees hotter in the summer than leafier parts of the city. People living in those areas suffer disproportionately from extreme heat.
As the trees grow, they create shade, lowering temperatures. Because the trees help absorb and filter runoff from storms when compared to paved areas, the City of Richmond has significantly reduced the church’s stormwater fee. The project at Branch’s Baptist includes several elements:
- Removing a 14,400 square-foot unused portion of parking lot, which is now replanted with 12 native trees;
- Removing a nearly 5,000 square-foot unused basketball court, which was reforested this month with 30 native trees, and;
- Creating a 3,300 square-foot strip between parking spaces by removing asphalt. There river birch will shade cars that would otherwise heat up in the sun. During rain, runoff from the church's roof flows into this strip and across a series of rocky wells and trenches, where the water is absorbed into the earth rather than sending polluted runoff into the James River.
Heavy machinery first broke up the concrete and asphalt and hauled it away. The poor, compacted soil beneath the pavement was enriched with compost and biochar. Design work was completed by AMT, an engineering firm, and construction by contractor Exact Stormwater Management, in coordination with the City of Richmond. Richmond's Parks and Recreation Department completed the remediation work on the former basketball court.
The effort is part of the Greening Southside Richmond Project, in which CBF and partners are planting hundreds of trees to reduce polluted runoff and cool some of Richmond's hottest neighborhoods with support from a National Fish and Wildlife Foundation Small Watershed Grant.
The trees planted at Branch’s Baptist include oaks, maples, serviceberries, sweetbay magnolias, black gums, loblolly pines, and more. This built on a 2018 effort between CBF and the church to plant 100 trees on church grounds with support from a Virginia Department of Forestry Grant.