This month Lara Rix joined the Environment Virginia team as our new Conservation Associate. Here's her story of arriving in Richmond during the pandemic and finding just how important our protected spaces are:
I moved to Richmond, Virginia in the middle of the pandemic last January. I moved from Austin, Texas with my dog, my boyfriend, and our belongings from our college apartment strapped to the bed of my dad’s pickup truck, our car towed precariously behind. We drove for 25 hours through Mississippi, Alabama, Louisiana, Georgia, the Carolinas, and finally, Virginia.
When we arrived in Richmond, the city felt like a ghost town. Restaurants were closed to the public, bars deserted, streets sparsely populated. Our apartment was in the heart of the Fan district, an area known for its lively events, restaurants, and shops - yet we hardly explored given the severity of COVID and the potential for exposure.
The outdoors was our reprieve from the work from home, sedentary lifestyle at our apartment. Richmond’s James River is lined with trails, paths, walkways, rock climbing walls, and beaches. My morning and afternoon runs invigorated me, reminding me of the beauty of the natural world. On special occasions I would find myself driving to Shenandoah National Park to do ten, twelve, and twenty-mile trail runs on winding switchbacks, across rocky plateaus, and to the top of towering peaks. Losing myself in Virginia’s natural beauty was exactly what I needed to be reminded that time passes, seasons change, new beauty forms and flourishes, even in the midst of tragedy.
I was not the only one who found comfort and joy in exploring Virginia’s wild places during global turmoil and pandemic-induced stress; in fact, Virginia’s parks and outdoor spaces saw a 14 percent increase in visitation at the start of the pandemic. People from all over Virginia and the east coast flocked to some of Virginia’s most iconic wild places, including urban trails, Shenandoah National Park, and the Blue Ridge Mountains. Protecting Virginia’s wild places is a necessity - not just for the countless recreational opportunities that Virginians love to partake in - but for the betterment of our state’s wild landscape.
Ensuring that Virginia’s landscape is preserved and protected is integral to making sure that the lands are healthy, accessible, and beautiful. Virginia’s extensive park system has been dutifully preserved for decades; it seems only right that funding for parks and conservation increases in proportion to park usage.
Introducing a Virginia-specific land and conservation fund would ensure that parks and natural areas are preserved in spite of large crowds of Virginians enjoying the state’s wild spaces. We need to make sure that Virginia is protected from overuse, and the only way to do this is by increasing funding to protect our natural areas. Maintaining biodiversity at the state and local levels in our parks and natural spaces is critical to make sure that Virginians are able to continue to enjoy our parks while simultaneously ensuring that they are protected for the sake of maintaining a healthy environment.