Bellemeade Park – An Outdoor Learning Campus

Published on August 11th, 2020 by Robert Argabright

By Diane Moxley, Riverine Virginia Master Naturalist (aka Mosquito)

They say that youth is wasted on the young, but truly HOPE is blessed upon them. They are the future of who will value and protect all those things that we now hold near and dear.

In Richmond, VA, lies a little-known gem of a park hidden away on the Southside, called Bellemeade Park. It backs up to Oak Grove-Bellemeade Elementary School, off South US 1, and has been created to function as an Outdoor Learning Campus, both for the school and the public at large. Within this 6-acre Richmond public park, there are areas of interest that include 2 forested paths through the woods, a flowing stream and spots to teach water quality testing, a bee apiary to educate on the importance of bees and pollination, a wildflower garden, a Virginia Geology display of boulders representative of our indigenous rocks, marked tree specimens planted by the Richmond Tree Stewards, and a pollinator/rain garden to explain the importance of controlling storm-water run-off while also creating an additional viewing habitat to enjoy nature and critters. The Park even boasts a Bike Shed where children and adults can earn a free refurbished bicycle based upon their completion of community service hours.

Since starting my particular project in Bellemeade last April 2020, a fellow gardener friend, Pat Stith, and I have created the rain garden portion of the displays. Bob Argabright, head honcho for the Park’s visionary evolution, gave me free reign to design and install the rain garden based on both the “lay of the land”, and my previous experience as an avid native plant gardener and a VA Master Naturalist. My friend, Pat, was probably the best co-creator that I could have ever had since she was equally happy to dig in the dirt, move chunks of concrete sidewalk and rock, and watch our creation grow! Together we single handedly moved over 15 tons of rock and concrete, and installed probably 150-200 plants. And we loved every minute of it (except the heat)! 

Space before rain garden installation
Work in progress
Completed rain garden

And the best part of it all…BUILD IT AND THEY WILL COME! We are now seeing critters that we never saw in the rain garden area of the Park before. We have skinks, box turtles, butterflies, birds, native bees, bumblebees and wasps, dragon flies and praying mantids. The Park also hosts a resident pair of Red Shouldered Hawks and Barred Owls.

Lesson plans have even been written for the educators about the various teaching areas in the hopes that the love and passion for the outdoors and nature can be passed on to this same precious youth.  Without them to carry forward the joy and appreciation of being in such a special and natural place as the outdoors, the future would definitely not look quite as bright!

So, in these times of COVID-19 when we all wish for that little glimmer of HOPE FOR A BRIGHTER FUTURE, I keep focused on an inspirational plaque that hangs on my bathroom mirror. It reads, “If you think you are too small to have an impact, then try going to bed with a mosquito!”

For anyone wishing to join us in our creation of a better world through the Outdoor Learning Campus, or wanting to get more information on how to create one of their own, please contact Bob Argabright at (804) 310-1080, or email [email protected].